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THE DEATH OF MRS WESTAWAY . . . Between the covers

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What would you do if you were all alone in the world, with no family, scraping a living reading Tarot Cards in a shabby booth on Brighton Pier, threatened with violence by loan sharks, and then you receive a letter from solicitors telling you that you have inherited a fortune? Hyperventilate? Punch the air with joy? Sing a hymn to whichever god you believe in? Harriet ‘Hal’ Westaway does none of these things. Because she knows that there has been a terrible mistake. She shares a surname with the deceased woman, but that is it. End of. Hal knows that she is not connected to the Mrs Westaway who has gone to meet her maker, leaving a vast rambling estate in Cornwall – and a prodigious bank balance – to her long-lost granddaughter.

TDOMW coverHal Westaway is no crook. She is not an opportunist. She has a conscience. She instinctively understands the difference between meum and teum. And yet. And yet. The gangster from whom she unwisely took out a desperation loan is angry and anxious for his 300%. Hal’s Brighton flat has already been turned over, and she knows that broken bones are next on the agenda. So, she accepts the invitation from the late Mrs Westaway’s solicitor to travel down to Cornwall to meet the family she never knew she had.

In a glorious take on the classic Reading Of The Will trope, Hal meets her new found family, principally Mrs Westaway’s three disinherited sons. Now, at least according to the the solicitor, Harding, Ezra and Abel Westaway are her uncles and, boy oh boy, are they in for a shock as Mr Treswick looks over his glasses, pauses for dramatic effect, and announces that Hal is the main beneficiary.

Once this irresistible set-piece is out of the way, we learn that Trepassen House has some dark – and I mean seriously dark – secrets. Ruth Ware milks the forbidding Manderley-style atmosphere for all it is worth, and she even gives us a Mrs Danvers in the person of the baleful and embittered housekeeper, Mrs Warren. Hal discovers that her late mother was once a part of the Trepassen household when she stayed with Mrs Westaway’s daughter Maud, to whom she was a distant cousin. But why on earth did Mrs Westaway think that Hal was her granddaughter. Was she mad? Simply perverse in wanting to humiliate her own children? And just what happened at Trepassen in that long hot summer of 1994?

RWRuth Ware (right) is not the first writer – nor will she be the last – to explore the lurid charms of a decaying mansion, its ghosts both real and imagined, and the dusty terrors of death, but she makes a bloody good job of it in The Death of Mrs Westaway. Hal Westaway is a delightful character, and you would require a heart of the hardest granite not to sympathise with her and the exquisite dilemma she faces. The plot is a dazzling mix of twists, surprises, and just the right amount of improbability. The Death of Mrs Westaway is a thriller which makes you keep the bedroom light on, and long for the safety of daylight. It looks like being another bestseller for Ruth Ware, and you can judge for yourselves on June 28th, when the book will be published by Harvill Secker.

 

NOW, HERE’S THE BEST BIT!

If my review of this cracking novel has tickled your what-not, and you want your own copy, you might just be in look. Either email me at the address below, putting Mrs Westaway as the subject:

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

OR

Click the image below which will take you to the Fully Booked Facebook page. Simply ‘like’ the post, and your name will go into the digital hat. I’ll draw a winner from all the entries after the competition closes at 10.00pm on Sunday 1st July. Due to postal costs, the competition is only open to readers from the UK or the Irish Republic.

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PANIC ROOM . . . Between the covers

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There are some professions that give the noble art of lying a bad name. Politicians, for starters, and then their brothers and sisters in arms, lawyers. Have you ever noticed that both jobs share the same skillset? But I digress. It could be argued that novelists are born liars, but at least we know that what they are telling us never actually happened. But the true monarchs of misinformation, the sovereigns of sophistry and the bards of bullshit are, surely, estate agents (for any American readers, that’s what we call realtors here in Britain.)

Panic RoomDon Challenor is what Monty Python might have called at ex-estate agent. He is no more. He has over-egged his last pudding and hyped up his last hovel. The prestigious London property sellers Mendez Chinnery have, as the saying goes, let him go. He has been, to quote the late lamented Alan Clark, economical with the actualité once too often. He is at that stage of life when it is becoming harder and harder to slip into a new job. Not only is he sans employment, but he is also sans wife. Fran has married again and is still lawyering away, but with a new husband and his children. Challenor is surprised, then, when she makes contact to offer him a cash in hand one-off job. It sounds simple. He is to travel down to Cornwall, assess an executive-style property, and present her with a glowing file which will attract well-heeled buyers like moths to a flame. The house, Wortalleth West, was formerly owned by millionaire businessman Jack Harkness, but it has now been signed over to his former wife as part of a divorce settlement.

Wortalleth West is a futuristic building perched on a promontory overlooking the ocean, but as Challenor goes about his business he notices that within the house, the measurements don’t add up, and he comes to the conclusion that there is a hidden room within the building. Not only that, he has encountered a mysterious young housekeeper who calls herself Blake. Most troubling, however, is the fact that his visit to Cornwall has attracted the attention of a follower, complete with sinister dark glasses and blacked-out four-by-four vehicle.

Challenor had hoped for a breezy few days doing what he does best – romancing about the many virtues of a property and preparing an irresistible package of enhanced photographs and wildly colourful descriptions of its charms. Instead, he realises that Jack Harkness is on the run from the authorities for financial fraud, and deep within Wortalleth West lies a secret which desperate men are prepared to kill for.

Fran has insisted that Challenor send Blake packing, but things are not so simple. Blake has discovered a secret which links the fugitive Harkness to both a young woman who simply disappeared off the face of the earth many years earlier, and a local woman who appears to have supernatural powers.

The tone of the novel gets progressively darker with every page turned. The bland and eternally optimistic Challenor finds himself totally out of his depth in a swirling intrigue of financial fraud, a biochemical time-bomb and international gangsters who are determined to solve the mystery of Wortalleth West’s panic room.

I have read – and very much enjoyed – Robert Goddard’s trilogy (pictured below) set in the turbulent aftermath of The Great War, and featuring former pilot James Maxted, but Panic Room is the first of Goddard’s standalone novels I have come across. It is published by Bantam Books and will be available on 22nd March.

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