The Death of Mrs. Westaway

The Death of Mrs. Westaway

by Ruth Ware


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From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, and The Lying Game comes Ruth Ware’s fourth novel, “her best yet” (Library Journal, starred review).

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased...where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, this is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501156250
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Publication date: 04/30/2019
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 4,127
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Ruth Ware worked as a waitress, a bookseller, a teacher of English as a foreign language, and a press officer before settling down as a full-time writer. She now lives with her family in Sussex, on the south coast of England. She is the #1 New York Times and Globe and Mail (Toronto) bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, The Lying Game, and The Death of Mrs. Westaway. Visit her at or follow her on Twitter @RuthWareWriter.

Reading Group Guide

This readers group guide for The Death of Mrs. Westaway includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Ruth Ware. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Twenty-one-year-old Hal has been down on her luck since her mother’s death two years ago. With a loan shark and his cronies beating on her door and physically threatening her, Hal is struggling to eke out a living at the tarot-reading booth she took over from her mother on Brighton’s West Pier.

But on a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a glimmer of hope in the form of a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot reader might help her claim the money anyway.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased . . . where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. Hal learned tarot, her eventual trade as an adult, from her mother at a young age. What else did Hal inherit from her mother? How does Hal’s understanding of her inheritance, physical and otherwise, change over the course of the novel?

2. How does the unknown identity of the writer of the diaries from Trepassen affect your understanding of the events? Did you guess at the identity before it was revealed?

3. How does the solicitor, Mr. Treswick, change the outcome for Hal and the Westaway family? Did he do his due diligence in finding and vetting Hal? Do you think Hal is glad to have been found, in the end?

4. How did you react to Hal’s ultimate decision to attend the funeral? What do you think her true motivation was? What would you have done in her shoes?

5. Hal is skilled at stepping into different roles—she plays Madame Margarida for her clients, she plays the regretful granddaughter for the funeral. What does this skill say about Hal’s character?

6. The interplay of skepticism and superstition is as present throughout The Death of Mrs. Westaway as the swarms of magpies at Trepassen. How does this tug-of-war between skepticism and superstition affect each of the characters? Would things have turned out differently if Hal believed in fortunes and fate?

7. “You should never have come back here,” Mrs. Warren attempts to warn Hal (p. 219). Can Hal trust Mrs. Warren? Can she trust Mitzi, or any of the other Westaways? Why or why not?

8. Hal plays the mouse, but feels she is more the rat. Which is she really? How do the events at Trepassen change Hal’s understanding of herself and her own identity?

9. Who is the real villain of The Death of Mrs. Westaway? Why? Does that change throughout the course of the book?

10. The house at Trepassen, cavernous and cold and rundown, almost takes on a life of its own. How much of that was due to the mark Mrs. Westaway left on the house? What sort of home environment did Mrs. Westaway create for her children? How does Mrs. Warren perpetuate that?

11. Abel, Harding, Ezra—and even Mrs. Warren—swear that Ezra was the favorite. How does that fact play out in the end? Was Mrs. Westaway protecting Ezra?

12. Were you surprised by the revelation between Ezra and Hal, or by the final revelation Hal discovers in the study and Mrs. Warren’s wing? Why or why not?

13. Does Hal get what she deserves in the end? What does she gain? What does she learn? At what cost?

14. What do you think Mrs. Westaway’s motive was in leaving her will as she did? How much do you think she knew about Hal before her death? Why or why not?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Author A. J. Finn said, “The Death of Mrs. Westaway, [Ruth Ware’s] latest, is also her best.” If you haven’t read Ware’s other novels, go back and read In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, or The Lying Game and discuss with your book club. Which book is your favorite? How are they similar and different from one another?

2. Explore the world of tarot and fortune reading. Find a local tarot reader for a visit with your book club, or learn the basics online from or this article on You might even find a book on tarot reading at your local library or bookstore.

3. The expansive and dilapidated house at Trepassen, the colorful cast of characters, and the page-turning suspense of The Death of Mrs. Westaway seem like a perfect fit for the big screen. Who would you cast as Hal in the film version? What about Ezra, Abel, Harding, and Mrs. Warren? Discuss with your book club.

4. Learn more about Ruth Ware by visiting her website at, or following her on Twitter @RuthWareWriter or at

A Conversation with Ruth Ware

The Death of Mrs. Westaway has it all: family secrets, an old Gothic manor, thrilling plot lines, page-turning pacing, flawed characters in a deeply human way. What was the genesis for this book? Did you start with a specific character, scene, or idea?

I think the core of this book was the fact that I had written three novels about people who were drawn into crimes or deceptions through no fault of their own—they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, or witnessed something they shouldn't have. With The Death of Mrs. Westaway, I wanted to try something quite different and write a character who sets out to commit a crime. Because I knew that I wanted Hal to be a con artist, I decided to give her a career suited to deceiving people—so I made her a tarot reader, but a cynical one who doesn’t believe in the power of the cards but instead uses her skills and intuition to claim a knowledge she doesn't have.

The expansive estate and grand manor house at Trepassen, even in their disrepair, are quite impressive, and crucial to the story line. Is Trepassen based on a real place?

Not exactly—it’s very loosely based on a real house in Sussex, near where I live, called Standen House, which is a very beautiful arts and crafts house. Standen House is in much better repair than Trepassen, although largely unaltered since the 1930s, but it has a slightly haunted, melancholy air, as it was built for a large, loving family of seven children, who gradually all died or moved away, leaving the house in the custody of the youngest daughter, who had not married. She left it to the National Trust in her will and it’s now open to the public, still furnished with the family’s possessions, as if they had simply popped out for a country walk one day.

The long tiled corridors, the echoing rooms, and the orangery at Trepassen are all inspired by counterparts at Standen, and walking around the place I couldn’t help but imagine what it must have been like to be the one remaining sibling living there alone, growing older and frailer, with the house falling into disrepair around her.

But the Cornish setting owes a heavy debt to the novels of Daphne du Maurier—there is definitely a large pinch of Manderley in the mix.

The sibling—and pseudo-sibling, in the case of Maud and Maggie—dynamics greatly affect the events of the novel. Were you inspired by any real-life siblings or relationships?

It's funny because out of all the siblings in the book, I think the closest sibling relationship is Maggie and Maud, who as you mentioned aren't really sisters at all. But I am very close to my sister and I definitely relate to the unconditional loyalty that Maggie and Maud develop for each other.

I have no idea where the brothers came from, though—they feel very real to me, and I love their complicated mix of affection and exasperation for one another, but I’ve no idea what inspired that. Sometimes my imagination is a mystery even to me.

What kind of research did you do for this book? Did you already have experience with tarot, or is that something you researched specifically?

Believe it or not, I knew almost nothing about tarot and had never had a reading, though I have always loved the look of the cards and been a little fascinated by their imagery. It was really fun researching all that—I bought books about tarot reading and symbolism and had great fun picking and choosing how all the readings in the book would pan out. But of course, as I mentioned, Hal is a cynical tarot reader who doesn’t actually believe the cards have any mystical power and uses her powers of observation for slightly less-than-moral ends, so the other strand of research I did was into fake mediums and psychics, which was equally fascinating. I read about “cold reading” techniques, where the so-called psychic genuinely knows nothing beforehand about their mark but simply picks up information from their reactions and appearance, and “hot reading,” where the person conducting the reading researches their mark beforehand to give the appearance of insight. I also went and had a tarot reading myself—I did this after conducting all my research so it was fascinating to see some of the things I had researched play out in the reading.

I also picked up some truly horrifying stories of people taken in by fake psychics. They were told to me in confidence so I probably can’t share them here—but suffice it to say, I would be very, very careful if anyone contacts you out of the blue.

Mrs. Westaway herself is a bit of a shadowy figure. We only get to know her through the stories and recollections of others, and fleeting mentions in Maggie’s diary. Why did you choose to keep her mostly off the page?

Partly it was practicality—the story is about Hal’s journey of discovery, not Maggie’s experiences at Trepassen, so I didn’t want to include too much from the diary, and that meant limiting the scenes with Mrs. Westaway. Also many of the climactic scenes that I would have liked to feature were impossible to include in the diary. But partly I loved the idea of a character like Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, who is a hugely looming, influential presence in the novel but who we only see through the recollection of others. I really enjoy books where a pivotal character exists mainly off the page, and we see different, disorted flickers through the lens of different observers.

Like in The Lying Game, the narrative in The Death of Mrs. Westaway alternates Hal’s story in the present day and the diary entries from that fateful year—1994—at Trepassen. What draws you to weave the past into the present? What does this allow you to do with the narrative?

Hmm . . . I don’t know, this is a good question! I guess one answer is that unlike some crime writers, I’m not actually very interested in the crime itself—the gun, the body, the poison, or whatever. What matters to me is not so much the pebble that is thrown into the pond but the ripples that emanate from that pebble and the effect they have on other people. I suppose by putting the crime in the past, it enables the effect of those ripples to be more pronounced and allows me to concentrate on that part of the narrative.

I also love writing about secrets—and the thing about secrets is that the longer you keep them, the bigger they become.

How was writing The Death of Mrs. Westaway different from writing In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, and The Lying Game? How has your writing evolved with each book?

I’m not honestly sure, is the answer! This is probably something that the writer is worst-placed to comment on, because we are too close to the picture to see. I think The Death of Mrs. Westaway is probably darker and more gothic than my earlier books, which are a bit more fast-paced and action-packed. But the theme of female friendship and loyalty is a constant.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway is chock-full of plot twists and turns and red herrings that keep the reader guessing until the very end—do you outline your books to keep that all straight, or does it come to you as you go? How do you organize the plot for your novels?

I generally don't outline—or not very much. I have an idea of the structure in my head and sometimes if my editors ask me to I will jot that down, but it's not usually very extensive—a page or two at most. I also have a couple of paragraphs of notes at the end of the manuscript with jotted-down notes for things that I think should happen, or stuff that I need to go back and fix (or in the case of Mrs. Westaway, dates of birth and relative ages of all the characters, since that was important to the plot), but in general I hold 90 percent of the book in my head. I am always in awe of writers who have complicated charts with time lines and Post-it notes and index cards. I feel like I’m winging it most of the time!

It must be exhausting to publish a new book every year! How do you stay balanced with your writing and touring schedule? Do you take any time off between books, or is it right back to the grindstone?

I usually jump right back in—as soon as I finish one book, I begin the next (often the very next day). Not so much out of a sense of duty, although I do have contracts and deadlines I need to meet, but more because I always get a sense of huge deflation when a book comes out, and I find the best way to combat that is having another one on the boil all ready to go. That said, this book is the first time I didn’t do that. I was traveling and touring so much that it was all I could do to complete the edits on Mrs. Westaway; I just didn’t have time to begin a new book. Mostly though, the two fit pretty well together—I get long stretches of time when I can hunker down in my writing cave (it’s not a cave, I should probably make that clear) and then I get to break for fresh air and remember why I do it all.

You’ve mentioned in past interviews that you are a fan of Agatha Christie novels. What else do you like to read? Do you read other novels while working on your own?

I love Christie, but actually the biggest influence on this book were two other writers: Daphne du Maurier (who I’ve already mentioned) and Josephine Tey—anyone who has read her novel Brat Farrar will probably see some common themes and elements with The Death of Mrs. Westaway. Plus Hal is no Tom Ripley, but I was definitely thinking about Patricia Highsmith’s mesmerising con-man antihero when I was coming up with her character.

I love to read anything and everything, and I do read while working on my own books, but I find I can’t read crime or psychological thrillers, at least not while I’m in the early stages of the idea. It’s partly to do with finding the voice of my character—I have to learn to be silent for a little while, to listen to what my narrator is trying to say to me, and it’s hard to do that while you’re immersed in someone else’s character. But it’s also a practical issue—if I’m already committed to a story, I don’t want to find out that someone else is writing on the same subject or has used the same twist. If I’m halfway through the book it’s too late to turn back, so I would rather simply not know! For that reason, you’ll often find me re-reading old favorites that I know backward already, or wallowing in nonfiction or comedy or something completely unrelated. I just finished a volume of David Sedaris’s essays, which is basically a perfect counterpart to writing crime.

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The Death of Mrs. Westaway (B&N Exclusive Edition) 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 66 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read in two days. I have read all Ruth Ware's books and this is the best one. Her other books are good but this one really grabs you. A good mystery and the ending is right on. Looking forward to reading the next one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This one is my favorite . ....Loved the setting and the characters. Read it in one sitting..,tho my eyes protested mightily !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Could not out this book down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Much different than Woman in Cabin 10, but equally as enthralling! Reminiscent of early Victoria Holt, Daphne du Maurier and Emily Bronte.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Better than Cabin 10 which I did not like. Somewhat repetitious, but the unraveling of the mystery is well thought out. The tarot card descriptions are interesting and integrated into the main character's thoughts. The dialogue for the main character Hal is poor. For the most part, Hal begins and ends with "I..I...uh.." This is my biggest criticism. The ending is good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read with plot twists and turns galore! Well worth the read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of her best yet. Loved the setting. Waiting for her next book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the first book by Ruth Ware that I have read and I enjoyed it immensely! The characters have depth, feel real, and quickly take on a life of their own. The story itself is gripping and wrapped in mystery until the very end. The setting (the Westaway estate) in which the bulk of the story takes place is well fleshed out and quickly takes on a life of its own. Bravo, Mrs. Ware. Bravo.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved it. Didn't want to put it down. I've read all of Ruth Ware's books...she's one of my top favorite authors!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A true gothic feel in scenery, Plot and characters. A perfect read for a dark and stormy night!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Got half way through and thought I figured it out, but there was still half a book to go and I was wondering what else could happen to take up the rest of the pages. Then the book was over. Couldn’t believe how quickly it went. Totally absorbing plot and intense characters. This is a page ;turner!
Fictionophile More than 1 year ago
This is the second Ruth Ware title I have read. Her debut novel “In a dark, dark wood” was a very enjoyable read so I had high expectations of this, her fourth novel. I was not disappointed (even though the author included a telling clue within the first chapters). I liked Hal’s character and was invested in her plight. Family secrets are always a draw for me, and this novel was rife with them. Secrets, lies, deception and betrayal in an atmospheric setting make for an enjoyable thriller.
miss_mesmerized More than 1 year ago
Harriet Westaway, called Hal, is broke, totally broke. When she receives a letter stating that her grandmother has died and she is to inherit a substantial sum, this seems to be the solution to all her problems. Yet: the dead woman simply cannot be her grandmother. They share the same last name, but all the dates on the birth certificates show that there must have been a mistake. Nevertheless, she travels to Cornwall to the funeral where she meets “her family”: Harding, Abel and Ezra – presumably her mother Maud’s brothers. Before Maud died three years ago, she never spoke of neither her family nor Hal’s father, she and her mother were all family she had and now, she got three uncles and their families. Hal feels uncomfortable betraying them, even though they apparently do much better in life than she herself and they easily could do without a couple of pounds. But more than the nagging bad conscience she senses that the old mansion, Trepassen, she is staying at has some secrets to hide – especially the deceased Mrs Westaway’s servant Mrs Warren seems to know something she does not want to share – and she recognises Hal. How could that be? I have read several of Ruth Ware’s novels and I like that she always finds a completely new story and that you are not reminded of any former books – a problem of so many authors who seem to write the same novel over and over again. Even though Ware has become famous for her psychological thrillers, I wouldn’t classify “The Death of Mrs Westaway” as one, for me it is rather a suspenseful family drama without the big thrill but a lot of secrets and mysteries. What I liked especially was the setting of the old house in which all the secrets have lain buried for two decades. The floor boards creak when you walk on them, there is an old study with masses of books and you can hear the wind howl. Plus, the secretive family who is not very open and welcoming to the stranger and who surely does not want any old stories to be uncovered. For her protagonist, Ruth Ware has chosen a very unique character. A young orphaned woman is not that rare in those kinds of novels, however, Hal is a tarot reader and has a special capacity of reading people – in order to tell them what they want to hear. She herself does not believe in the cards as fortune-tellers, they are much more providing guidance and concentration at the facts at hand. The story itself is captivating immediately since you anxiously wait until Hal’s deliberate deception is revealed and she is thrown-out. Then you realise that things might be a bit more complicated and the further you get, the more pieces of the puzzle appear leading to a new picture. There are many small aspects which make the novel absolutely outstanding, first of all the title which seems so simple since you know right from the start that a certain Mrs Westaway has died. Yet, at the end, there is much more to this than you might have guessed at first. Second, Harriet has a tattoo of a magpie, a reference to her mother and closely linked to Trepassen – which is a corruption of the Cornish word for magpie farm. She calls herself “Hal” which is also the name of the goddess of death in Norse mythology and whom the magpies served. All in all, a captivating read in which it is worth looking at the details.
Anonymous 29 days ago
RMeckley 4 months ago
Not Ms. Ware's best work, but still entertaining. Harriet “Hal” Westaway is a tarot card reader who is broke and owes money. When she receives a letter telling her that she has inherited something from her grandmother, she is desperate enough to attend the funeral, even though she doesn’t have a grandmother, in the hope that she can get some money and get out. The plot is very intricate and involved, with people and names that cause much confusion. I didn’t really like Hal very much, and thought she made too many “convenient” mistakes to progress the plot. I do enjoy this author, but this one is down on the list.
GratefulGrandma 5 months ago
Harriet, aka Hal Westaway is still reeling from the death of her mother three months earlier in a hit and run. She has given up on college and is now working on the pier as a tarot card reader. She gets a letter from a lawyer informing her that her grandmother has died and she is in the will. She assumes this can't be right and is ready to ignore the letter until she starts being threatened. Earlier she borrowed some money from a loan shark who is now threatening bodily harm. Not only does a quick inheritance sound good to her, but getting away from the loan shark sends her off to Trepassen house. The house is dark, brooding and falling apart, a perfect setting for a gothic thriller. There are lots of characters who are quite well developed. There are aunts, uncles, cousins and a housekeeper, Mrs. Warren. She is cranky, a bit scary and seems to be lurking around corners. She seems to know all the house's and family secrets but is she willing to share them? I liked Hal. She was trying to do what was right, but with the threats to her life, she thinks a few thousand pounds will come in handy. What she was not expecting was to inherit Trepassen House. As the story unfolds the reader learns there are many secrets. Some of the family are willing to help Hal, others seem to be standing in her way. This is one of those stories that I thought I had figured out, but oh how wrong I was. I was right on in some areas, but the final ending was amazing. As one reviewer said, The Death of Mrs. Westaway is not action packed, but it is thoughtfully creepy and has so many twists in store for you. I definitely recommend this one!
Anonymous 5 months ago
it starts pretty slow, but turns out to be a good book!! I would recommend!
Anonymous 6 months ago
Very good storyline
Anonymous 7 months ago
Couldn't put it down !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put it down! Incredible!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Harriet (Hal) Westaway lives in a tiny flat in Brighton. She works in a little kiosk on the beach reading tarot cards for customers while barely earning enough money to keep herself. Her mother had been the one reading the cards until a year ago when she was hit and killed crossing the street. Hal has been devastated at the loss of her mother as it has always just been the two of them. Her mother would never tell Hal the name of her father saying he was just a one night stand and she has no idea where he is. One day, Hal receives a letter from a solicitor saying that her grandmother, Mrs. Hestor Westaway of Trepassen House, has recently passed way leaving a large estate and Hal is a beneficiary. The solicitor has asked her to attend the woman’s funeral and hear the reading of the will. She is shocked to learn this because she thought her grandparents had been gone for 20 years or more. Since Hal has a vicious money lender snapping at her heels, she decides to attend the funeral even though she feels she is not Mrs. Westaway’s granddaughter. After the funeral, she returns to Trepassen House with her uncles to hear the reading of the will. She is shocked to find that after a stipend to the housekeeper and payment of the death duties, Hal is the sole heir. Staying at the unheated and bleak Trepassen House for a few days with her uncles and the bitter old housekeeper, she tries to get to know them and learn more about her past if, indeed, she truly is the daughter of Mrs. Westaway’s long missing daughter. I have been waiting for quite awhile to get a copy of this book from my library as I had been turned down to read an advanced review copy by the publisher at NetGalley since I do not have a blog. I eagerly opened the book and kept reading and reading waiting for something spectacular to happen. What a disappointment. I was hoping for a really good thriller but, instead, found a rather dark mystery. The setting is a cold place which adds to the mystery, but the characters didn’t have much punch to them. They were dull and uninteresting to me. Hal didn’t come across as heroine material either. All in all, this book is somewhat of a disappointment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read it in about 7 hours. Ruth is one of my new favorite authors. This one kept me guessing right up till the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very exciting story. A must read. Have bought it on audio for a blind friend.