An avid book nerd, Jennifer Branton loves to share her favorite book finds with her readers.
The Way Things Used To Be
Harriet Westaway is beyond broke. With a feeble income from reading tarot cards on the pier for tourists in a kiosk that her mother formally had rented before her death, Hal is almost a moment away from destitute in Ruth Ware's The Death Of Mrs. Westaway.
Hal has lived in the apartment where for her entire life, but it feels so empty after the hit and run accident that claimed her mother two years before. Each day Hal fights to make enough income reading cards to keep the rent of her apartment, the kiosk at the pier, and pay off her growing bills leading her to fall prey to a lender that offers more than Hal can ever pay back in full with the interest.
Then one day a letter arrives addressed to Harriet Westaway at her address from a lawyer representing a woman that Hal has never heard of- a grandmother that left her money in her will. Only Hall knows that her grandparents were dead on her mother's side and knows nothing of her father's family as her mother always said it was a one night stand with a college student.
Hal has a gift for reading people when she reads cards, knowing what to ask from their body language and the way they present their problems. How could fooling people into believing she was the woman that they thought she was be any different?
Hal needs the money after a lender shows up at her kiosk saying that she has five days to pay back the loan before he kicks her teeth in. Believing in the threat, Hal takes off to the funeral of her alleged grandmother and to face a family that she has never known.
Strangely, the woman that would have been her grandmother has three sons and a daughter, but only the three sons are present at the funeral. It is explained the daughter, Maude had run off as a teenager and no one had seen her in over twenty years. Pretending to be Maude's daughter was a delicate balancing act as there was no information on her online for Hal to build a backstory from. Using a bit of her own history she explains that Maude had raised her on her own and never let on there was other members of her family so near.
Hal has no idea how close she was coming to the truth.
Follow The Magpies
One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told...
Hal of course knew the poem about the Magpies and it seemed no coincidence she had gotten one tattooed in memorial of her mother although she never understood the connection. Since finding that she was to inherit the house and that her grandmother had cut her own children from the will entirely, relatives began to be outraged. Where was Maude for all these years and why was her fatherless child the one that was going to receive all of the inheritance?
As the housekeeper began to act strangely around Hal and forbid her to come into a sitting room filled with family photos, Hal feels she can't live up to the expectations of her scheme and she should just face her punishment and returns home knowing that she was facing certain danger after finding her apartment had been broken into.
Going through her mother's papers in a case under the bed, Hal finds a journal and some letters that she digs into making a shocking discovery.
Her mother was a relation to the family that had mistaken her for Maude's daughter. In fact, as the mystery began to unravel, Hal decided to tell the family the truth, putting her future in further jeopardy.
Maggie And Maude
In the eighties, Mrs. Westaway and her children lived in the large estate for many years with just the servants until one day a relative had packed off a child named Maggie, a cousin to the Westaway children to live in their home.
While her uncles had explained to Hal that Mrs. Westway was a cold and cruel woman that never cared about anyone and lived to lavish the male children with education and rights, but kept Maude close to home not extending the same potential on a daughter she didn't think much about; it was hard to understand why Mrs. Westaway would take in another girl.
Maggie who shared the same name as her cousin, hence became known by the nicknames of Maggie and Maude to keep the two girls separate identities. While the cousins didn't get on so much in the early years, but the time the boys were sent to boarding school, all the girls had was each other and the grew closer.
Maggie had a secret while living with the Westaways, there was a young man that she had feelings for and she wrote about it all in her diary.
After becoming pregnant, Mrs. Westaway banished Maggie to the attic when she would not reveal the father of the child. Perhaps Mrs. Westaway knew somehow it was one of her own sons?
Seeking help for her cousin, Maude finds an apartment for the two girls near Maggie's due date and with the help of a townie named Lizzie who will pass notes between the girls, everything is set for Maggie to run away.
Only Maggie never makes it...
But her daughter does.
Knowing that Maggie would never leave behind Hal, Maude knows something is up and goes into hiding raising the child as her own, which no one questions as her birth name is the same as her cousin's except for the middle initial.
Finding out that Maude was not her birth mother was a shock to Hal, but she doesn't think of her any differently. Now Hal must figure out what happened to her birth mother Maggie and did it have any connection of why the family was trying to reach out to her now thinking she was a daughter of Maude?
The Reveal Of The Father
Hal knows that one of the men in the family had to be her father and begins to work her theories on narrowing down the man.
When it is revealed to be her uncle Erza, twin to Maude, Hal is stunned when she never realized it before when she talked about Maude to him. Knowing that her Uncle now knows that she is his child, this enrages him and Hal knows then for sure that he has killed to protect his secret.
Maude had recently written to Mrs. Hallaway before her death coming clean about everything that happened and hinting that she knew Erza was behind the death of Maggie. With Maude's mother under pressure she left everything to Hal, the daughter of one of her sons and the daughter of her niece that she had taken in to protect the secret.
Moreover, Maude alleged she knew that Maggie was dead and that her mother and brother were covering it up.
As Hal is chased around the estate, it was revealed that Maggie was killed in the boathouse on the property and that Ezra became increasingly more unstable when he thought he would be found out when Maggie's body was unearthed by a new owner.
The Women That Paid The Price
The Death Of Mrs. Westaway actually contains the death of three women of a the family who died for the secret of Hal's birth.
The grandmother that left Hal the property had gone to her grave knowing that her son had killed his own cousin to cover up that he had fathered a child with her, then killed his own sister for protecting her cousin's child in the end. But Ezra had tracked down Maude and made sure to end her in a fatal car accident, that had cost Hal the only mother that she had ever know.
A fast paced mystery, The Death Of Mrs. Westaway is a novel that gets bigger as the chapters go on, opening the world more and more beyond the simple initial narrative to pretend to be a relative of the deceased.
While it could be confusing how both of Hal's mothers had the same name, it plants the seed for how easy it could have been for Maude to go on raising Maggie's daughter with no suspicion.