Friday Book Whimsy: The Death of Mrs. Westaway

When author Ruth Ware comes out with a new novel, I always get sucked in by the title. The Woman in Cabin 10; In a Dark, Dark Wood; The Lying Game. Her latest thriller caught my attention for the same reason: its title. The Death of Mrs. Westaway sounds like it could have been written by Agatha Christie.

I have always been somewhat disappointed by Ware’s stories, however. Her writing is respectable and the stories are always interesting enough that I keep on reading. It’s generally her characters that I find troubling. I have to find something in a protagonist to like or the book will leave me dissatisfied.

I found The Death of Mrs. Westaway to lean somewhat in that direction; yet, I found the main character — a young woman named Hal — to be a bit more likable and less one dimensional.

Hal’s life is at its lowest point. Her mother (she never knew her father) has died. Hal’s career as a tarot card reader like her mother barely covers her living expenses. In fact, she is in debt to a low-life lender who has threatened death if she doesn’t fork up the money in short order. Money she simply doesn’t have.

And then she receives a letter telling her that her grandmother has died and she has been left an inheritance. Voila! This could be the answer to all of her money problems. There is only one problem. Her grandmother died years ago. The letter must have come to her in error. Still, what harm could there be in playing dumb and going to the funeral and the subsequent meeting with the lawyer?

Well, it turns out things get more and more complicated when Hal finds out that she not only was mentioned in the will, but Grandmother left her the whole shooting match — most of her money and the estate in which she lives. The estate which is INCREDIBLY SPOOKY. Hal’s new aunts and uncles aren’t thrilled with this notion, though they try to be nice to her.

But not only is the estate spooky, there is a very creepy housekeeper who dotes uncomfortably on one of Hal’s new uncles. This could be Mrs. Danvers’ (of Rebecca fame) younger sister.

While Hal’s new family appears to be understanding, it quickly becomes apparent that someone doesn’t want her to be around. And why are there pictures of her mother — her real-life mother who by all accounts isn’t even related — around the house?

The story is tied up quite satisfactorily if somewhat predictably. Still, I found this to be my favorite of all Ruth Ware’s novels. Having said that, I must tell you that The Death of Mrs. Westaway is no Rebecca by a long shot.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Woman in Cabin 10

imgresMurder on a cruise ship. It sounds very Agatha Christie, doesn’t it? All it needs is a small Belgian detective using his little gray cells to solve the mystery. Except about the only similarity between Agatha Christie and author Ruth Ware is their British background.

The Woman in Cabin 10 is Ware’s second novel. Her first, In a Dark, Dark Wood, (which I reviewed here) was a psychological thriller that took place in an all-glass house deep in the woods somewhere in England. Her second, The Woman in Cabin 10, is another psychological thriller, this one taking place on a cruise ship.

In fact, for the most part, The Woman in Cabin 10 is simply The Girl on a Train, except on a cruise ship. I found myself alternately at the edge of my seat because of gripping tension, or screaming out loud, “Oh for heaven’s sake, don’t have another drink!”

I found the book frustrating.

Laura Blacklock (called Lo) is a writer for a London magazine. Circumstances result in her getting a coveted assignment – reporting on the inaugural cruise of a very fancy schmancy small cruise ship on some rich-and-famous people will be traveling. This is her BIG CHANCE. DON’T. SCREW. IT. UP.

Unfortunately, at the very beginning of the book (and shortly before she leaves on this business cruise), Lo’s apartment is burgled while she is home. The burglar, though he has a gun, does not kill her, but instead leaves with some of her belongings. The incident shakes her up so much that she pretty much is a wreck for the rest of the book.

Already freaked out because of her own personal incident, the very first night on the cruise ship, she borrows some makeup from the woman in the next room, and later on witnesses a body being thrown overboard from that same room.

Well, it turns out no one else has seen that particular woman – EVER – and no one else heard a body being thrown overboard. And since Lo has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder for which she takes antidepressants, and since she is already freaked out by her own scare prior to leaving, no one believes her.

So what does she do? She drinks too much, takes too many prescription medications, and tries to solve the mystery herself.

The main problem with the story, at least in my opinion, is that the character of Lo Blacklock is so inherently dislikable. I wanted to not believe her myself. She seems to be paralyzed with fear – something that might be realistic, but doesn’t make for a very interesting novel. And I seriously got so very tired of her being drunk and overmedicated. Just say no to drugs, Lo.

And yet, just as with Ware’s first novel, the writing is quite good. Good enough, in fact, that I continued to read. And while the ending didn’t blow me away with surprise, I found it to be fairly satisfying and somewhat unpredictable.

Overall, I can recommend this book for people who like thrillers such as The Girl on the Train. Just be prepared to understand that this novel, readers, is not the next The Girl on the Train, as hard as the author might try and as strongly as the publishers might try to sell the idea that it is.

Here is link to the book.


Friday Book Whimsy: In a Dark, Dark Wood

searchYou’ve got your cabin in the woods, a gathering of friends, loss of cell service, thunder storms, and the inevitable murder, creating quite an unnerving tale of jealousy and insecurity.

What I found particularly disturbing in Ruth Ware’s creepy In a Dark, Dark Wood was the cabin itself, which for me provided the utmost in scariness. Smack dab in the middle of a deserted wooded area sits a house made entirely of glass. The trees provide the only cover, but also the spookiness. There is no privacy and no protection.

Nora is a 26-year-old writer who is invited to a friend’s bachelorette party that is being held in the glass house in the dark, dark woods. Though she has literally not spoken to her friend in over a decade, she agrees to attend. I admit I found that premise to be suspect. Why is she invited, and why on earth would she accept?

Upon arriving at the glass house, Nora learns that the man to whom her friend is engaged is none other than her old boyfriend, someone who broke her heart years before and for whom she has pined ever since.

The gathering includes a decidedly unsettling group of friends, particularly the woman who has put the weekend together. She seemed to come straight from a Stephen King novel.

Somewhere in the middle of the book (yes, it takes that long), the groom-to-be is murdered right there in the house. Why was he there and guess who all clues point to? Yes, the murderer can only be Nora herself.

Except we know it’s not her. But the reader really doesn’t know who the murderer is until the very end because the book has a multitude of red herrings.

I’m sounding cynical, but I actually liked the book a lot. It was spooky enough, but not enough to keep a reader awake at night. The setting and the author’s descriptions provide a sinister element that is suitably spooky.

My main complaint is the lack of a realistic premise. I can’t see any reason why Nora agreed to attend, nor does Nora’s fixation with the groom, with whom she had a brief high school relationship, seem convincing.

Still, I recommend the book. I am looking forward to reading Ware’s newest book The Woman in Cabin 10. It is reported to be the next The Girl on the Train. That’s a shock, isn’t it?

Here is link to the book.