Publication: 28th June 2018 from Harvill Secker
When Harriet Westaway receives an unexpected letter telling her she’s inherited a substantial bequest from her Cornish grandmother, it seems like the answer to her prayers. She owes money to a loan shark and the threats are getting increasingly aggressive: she needs to get her hands on some cash fast.
There’s just one problem – Hal’s real grandparents died more than twenty years ago. The letter has been sent to the wrong person. But Hal knows that the cold-reading techniques she’s honed as a seaside fortune teller could help her con her way to getting the money. If anyone has the skills to turn up at a stranger’s funeral and claim a bequest they’re not entitled to, it’s her.
Hal makes a choice that will change her life for ever. But once she embarks on her deception, there is no going back. She must keep going or risk losing everything, even her life…
I loved this book which took me right back into the reasons I love crime fiction so much. All the way through I was incredibly impressed by the fact that although I knew I was reading a contemporary novel, nevertheless the setting and the prose were so reminiscent of an Agatha Christie old house mystery that my mind would deceive me into thinking I was in the past.
Hal Westaway lives in a small Brighton flat. Up to her ears in debt, she had to give up all hopes of college after the death of her mother in a hit and run accident and so she slid into her mother’ role as a tarot reader on Brighton pier. Pursued by thugs from the local loan shark, she is barely eking out a living when a letter from heaven drops in her lap. Well, maybe not heaven, but from a solicitor promising her an inheritance, and that’s as close as Hal is going to get to heaven. Because Hal’s talent is in reading people from cold and that’s what makes her tarot business tick over with repeat customers.
So when she gets the letter saying her deceased grandmother has left her money, she’s pretty clear that it’s not meant for her, but she can use the money and she reckons she can carry off an impersonation if there’s money in it for her.
Now Hal, or Harriet as she was christened, is not a bad young woman, merely pretty desperate. So to avoid the thugs, she sets out for the deceased’s family home, Trepassen House in Cornwall.
If she can convince the solicitor and the family of the deceased woman that she is entitled to a bequest, she will take the money and run as quickly as she can.
Trepassen House turns out to be huge, crumbling and very cold. It is a gloomy house of gothic proportions that fairly shrieks of ghosts and secrets. Trepassen House is ruled over by Mrs Warren, a woman with strong overtones of Mrs Danvers from Du Maurier’s Rebecca. Hardly welcoming, she shows Hal into an attic bedroom under the eaves which is colder than the grave her so called grandmother is buried in.
The others from the Westaway family she meets are hardly more welcoming, though her new ‘family’ are outwardly friendly though bemused by her existence. Sadly for Hal, who begins to have second thoughts about her deception once the size of her inheritance is revealed, it is clear that she’s going to have to stay around for a while whether she wants to or not.
A combination of unavoidable delays and atrocious weather maroons her in Cornwall and leads her into dangerous territory as she tries to find out what her connection to the Westaway family really is at the same time as carrying off her impersonation.
Ruth Ware manages to build up a magnificent suspenseful atmosphere which beautifully conveys the creepiness of the house and the menace that lies within it. The pace is slow but a beautifully paced slow so that the burn creeps up on you and you are on fire before you realise it.
Dark, creepy, gothic, contemporary, this is a story of families, secrets and horribly dark doings that should belong in the Victorian era but sadly are all too real and contemporary.
Sharply drawn, beautifully nuanced and with a heroine in Hal that you absolutely root for, this is a terrifically good novel with slight supernatural undertones and a definite gothic twist.
Verdict: Not to be missed. A dark and dramatic contemporary thriller with a gothic twist.
About Ruth Ware
Ruth Ware grew up in Lewes, in Sussex and studied at Manchester University, before settling in North London. She has worked as a waitress, a bookseller, a teacher of English as a foreign language and a press officer.
Her début thriller In a Dark, Dark Wood was an instant New York Times bestseller in the US, and a Richard and Judy pick and Sunday Times bestseller in the UK. It was optioned for film by New Line Cinema with Reese Witherspoon attached to produce.
The follow up, The Woman in Cabin 10 was a number one New York Times bestseller.
Since then her books have appeared on bestseller lists around the world, and all three have been optioned for either film or TV.
Follow her on Twitter at @ruthwarewriter.