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Ruth Ware’s ‘Death of Mrs. Westaway’: A con game that holds all the cards

The master of contemporary Goth mystery strikes again, with this tale of a would-be heiress who takes up card tricks as a precarious living and then turns to impersonation to try for a shady inheritance.

Ruth Ware, author of "The Death of Mrs. Westaway."
Ruth Ware, author of "The Death of Mrs. Westaway."Read moreLeft: Nick Tucker

The Death of Mrs. Westaway

By Ruth Ware

Gallery Press. 368 pp. $16.99.

Reviewed by Ginny Greene

An orphan who reads tarot cards on a dreary seaside pier to scrape out a living. A mean-spirited, wealthy widow who leaves a mean-spirited will. A trio of well-heeled sons who can barely stand to be in the same room. And several tragic characters who have met untimely deaths.

These are the figures who populate the pages of The Death of Mrs. Westaway, Ruth Ware’s latest tale of suspense, now out in paperback.

Though set in modern times, it opens with a Gothic feel. Harriet “Hal” Westaway has turned 20 and is alone in the world, orphaned when her tarot-reading mother was struck by a car. Lacking any other training, Hal steps into her mom’s fortunetelling shoes, learning to read gullible customers’ inner thoughts and dreams. It’s just shy of a con game, and it barely pays the bills. When a lawyer’s letter arrives, Hal assumes it’s another demand for a bill to be paid.

Instead, it’s an invitation to the beneficiaries of a will left by one Hester Westaway, whom the letter identifies as Hal’s grandmother. Hal knows this is a case of mistaken identity, but her financial desperation moves her to jump on a train to try to claim the “substantial inheritance.”

When she arrives at an ill-kept mansion with the other living kin, it’s apparent this dysfunctional family has buried its secrets (and its hatchets) by staying apart. Through the uncomfortable reunion, Hal keeps up her masquerade as the family absorbs her as a long-lost niece, but the bad will comes rushing out as the vindictive matriarch’s wishes are made known. Soon, all manner of threats, lies, betrayal, and intrigue are rattling skeletons in the family closets.

The story keeps the suspense at an entertaining level and is a fine fourth card in Ware’s growing deck of thrillers.

Ginny Greene wrote this review for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.