Nearly three million copies of Ruth Ware’s books sold worldwide.
The highly anticipated fourth novel from Ruth Ware, TheGlobe and Mail and New York Times bestselling author of the In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, and The Lying Game.
Harriet Westaway—better known as Hal—makes ends meet as a tarot reader, but she doesn’t believe in the power of her trade. On a day that begins like any other, she receives a mysterious and unexpected letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but she also knows that she can use her cold-reading skills to potentially claim the money.
Hal attends the funeral of the deceased and meets the family...but it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and that the inheritance is 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.
The girl leaned, rather than walked, into the wind, clutching the damp package of fish and chips grimly under one arm even as the gale plucked at the paper, trying to unravel the parcel and send the contents skittering away down the seafront for the seagulls to claim. As she crossed the road her hand closed over the crumpled note in her pocket, and she glanced over her shoulder, checking the long dark stretch of pavement behind her for a shadowy figure, but there was no one there. No one she could see, anyway. It was rare for the seafront to be completely deserted. The bars and clubs were open long into the night, spilling drunk locals and tourists onto the pebbled beach right through until dawn. But tonight, even the most hardened partygoers had decided against venturing out, and now, at 9:55 p.m. on a wet Tuesday, Hal had the promenade to herself, the flashing lights of the pier the only sign of life, apart from the gulls wheeling and crying over the dark restless waters of the channel. Hal’s short black hair blew in her eyes, her glasses were misted, and her lips were chapped with salt from the sea wind. But she hitched the parcel tighter under her arm and turned off the seafront into one of the narrow residential streets of tall white houses, where the wind dropped with a suddenness that made her stagger and almost trip. The rain didn’t let up. In fact, away from the wind it seemed to drizzle more steadily, if anything, as she turned again into Marine View Villas. The name was a lie. There were no villas, only a slightly shabby little row of terraced houses, their paint peeling from constant expo- sure to the salty air. And there was no view—not of the sea or any- where else. Maybe there had been once, when the houses were built. But since then taller, grander buildings had gone up, closer to the sea, and any view the windows of Marine View Villas might once have had was reduced to brick walls and slate roofs, even from Hal’s attic flat. Now the only benefit to living up three flights of narrow, rickety stairs was not having to listen to neighbors stomping about above your head. Tonight, though, the neighbors seemed to be out—and had been for some time, judging by the way the door stuck on the clump of junk mail in the hall. Hal had to shove hard, until it gave and she stumbled into the chilly darkness, groping for the automatic timer switch that governed the lights. Nothing happened. Either a fuse had blown, or the bulb had burned out. She scooped up the junk mail, doing her best in the dim light filtering in from the street to pick out the letters for the other tenants, and then began the climb up to her own attic flat. There were no windows on the stairwell, and once she was past the first flight, it was almost pitch-black. But Hal knew the steps by heart, from the broken board on the landing to the loose piece of car- pet that had come untacked on the last flight, and she plodded wearily upwards, thinking about supper and bed. She wasn’t even sure if she was hungry anymore, but the fish and chips had cost £5.50, and judging by the number of bills she was carrying, that was £5.50 she couldn’t afford to waste. On the top landing she ducked her head to avoid the drip from the skylight, opened the door, and then at last, she was home. The flat was small, just a bedroom opening off a kind of wide hallway that did duty as both kitchen and living room, and every- thing else. It was also shabby, with peeling paint and worn carpet, and wooden windows that groaned and rattled when the wind came off the sea. But it had been Hal’s home for all of her twenty-one years, and no matter how cold and tired she was, her heart never failed to lift, just a little bit, when she walked through the door. In the doorway, she paused to wipe the salt spray off her glasses, polishing them on the ragged knee of her jeans, before dropping the paper of fish and chips on the coffee table. It was very cold, and she shivered as she knelt in front of the gas fire, clicking the knob until it flared, and the warmth began to come back into her raw red hands. Then she unrolled the damp, rain- spattered paper packet, inhaling as the sharp smell of salt and vinegar filled the little room. Spearing a limp, warm chip with the wooden fork, she began to sort through the mail, sifting out takeout fliers for recycling and put- ting the bills into a pile. The chips were salty and sharp and the battered fish still hot, but Hal found a slightly sick feeling was growing in the pit of her stomach as the stack of bills grew higher. It wasn’t so much the size of the pile but the number marked FINAL DEMAND that worried her, and she pushed the fish aside, feeling suddenly nauseated. She had to pay the rent—that was nonnegotiable. And the electricity was high on the list too. Without a fridge or lights, the little flat was barely habitable. The gas . . . well it was November. Life without heating would be uncomfortable, but she’d survive. But the one that really made her stomach turn over was different from the official bills. It was a cheap envelope, obviously hand- delivered, and all it said on the front, in ballpoint letters, was “Harriet Westerway, top flat.” There was no sender’s address, but Hal didn’t need one. She had a horrible feeling that she knew who it was from. Hal swallowed a chip that seemed to be stuck in her throat, and she pushed the envelope to the bottom of the pile of bills, giving way to the overwhelming impulse to bury her head in the sand. She wished passionately that she could hand the whole problem over to someone older and wiser and stronger to deal with. But there was no one. Not anymore. And besides, there was a tough, stubborn core of courage in Hal. Small, skinny, pale, and young she might be—but she was not the child people routinely assumed. She had not been that child for more than three years. It was that core that made her pick the envelope back up and, biting her lip, tear through the flap. Inside there was just one sheet of paper, with only a couple of sentences typed on it. Sorry to have missed you. We would like to discuss you’re financial situation. We will call again. Hal’s stomach flipped and she felt in her pocket for the piece of paper that had turned up at her work this afternoon. They were identical, save for the crumples and a splash of tea that she had spilled over the first one when she opened it. The message on them was not news to Hal. She had been ignoring calls and texts to that effect for months. It was the message behind the notes that made her hands shake as she placed them carefully on the coffee table, side by side. Hal was used to reading between the lines, deciphering the importance of what people didn’t say, as much as what they did. It was her job, in a way. But the unspoken words here required no decoding at all. They said, We know where you work. We know where you live. And we will come back.
• • •
The rest of the mail was just junk and Hal dumped it into the recycling before sitting wearily on the sofa. For a moment she let her head rest in her hands—trying not to think about her precarious bank balance, hearing her mother’s voice in her ear as if she were standing behind her, lecturing her about her A-level revision. Hal, I know you’re stressed, but you’ve got to eat something! You’re too skinny! I know, she answered, inside her head. It was always that way when she was worried or anxious—her appetite was the first thing to go. But she couldn’t afford to get ill. If she couldn’t work, she wouldn’t get paid. And more to the point, she could not afford to waste a meal, even one that was damp around the edges, and getting cold. Ignoring the ache in her throat, she forced herself to pick up another chip. But it was only halfway to her mouth when something in the recycling bin caught her eye. Something that should not have been there. A letter in a stiff white envelope, addressed by hand, and stuffed into the bin along with the takeout menus. Hal put the chip in her mouth, licked the salt off her fingers, and then leaned across to the bin to pick it out of the mess of old papers and soup tins. Miss Harriet Westaway, it said. Flat 3c, Marine View Villas, Brighton. The address was only slightly stained with the grease from Hal’s fingers and the mess from the bin. She must have shoved it in there by mistake with the empty envelopes. Well, at least this one couldn’t be a bill. It looked more like a wedding invitation—though that seemed unlikely. Hal couldn’t think of anyone who would be getting married. She shoved her thumb in the gap at the side of the envelope and ripped it open. The piece of paper she pulled out wasn’t an invitation. It was a letter, written on heavy, expensive paper, with the name of a solicitor’s firm at the top. For a minute Hal’s stomach seemed to fall away, as a landscape of terrifying possibilities opened up before her. Was someone suing her for something she’d said in a reading? Or—oh God—the tenancy on the flat. Mr. Khan, the landlord, was in his seventies and had sold all of the other flats in the house, one by one. He had held on to Hal’s mainly out of pity for her and affection for her mother, she was fairly sure, but that stay of execution could not last forever. One day he would need the money for a care home, or his diabetes would get the better of him and his children would have to sell. It didn’t matter that the walls were peeling with damp, and the electrics shorted if you ran a hair dryer at the same time as the toaster. It was home—the only home she’d ever known. And if he kicked her out, the chances of finding another place at this rate were not just slim, they were nil. Or was it . . . but no. There was no way he would have gone to a solicitor. Her fingers were trembling as she unfolded the page, but when her eyes flicked to the contact details beneath the signature, she realized, with a surge of relief, that it wasn’t a Brighton firm. The address was in Penzance, in Cornwall. Nothing to do with the flat—thank God. And vanishingly unlikely to be a disgruntled client, so far from home. In fact, she didn’t know anyone in Penzance at all. Swallowing another chip, she spread the letter out on the coffee table, pushed her glasses up her nose, and began to read.
Dear Miss Westaway, I am writing at the instruction of my client, your grandmother, Hester Mary Westaway of Trepassen House, St Piran. Mrs Westaway passed away on 22nd November, at her home. I appreciate that this news may well come as a shock to you; please accept my sincere condolences on your loss. As Mrs Westaway’s solicitor and executor, it is my duty to contact beneficiaries under her will. Because of the substantial size of the estate, probate will need to be applied for and the estate assessed for inheritance tax liabilities, and the process of disbursement cannot begin until this has taken place. However if, in the meantime, you could provide me with copies of two documents confirming your identity and address (a list of acceptable forms of ID is attached), that will enable me to begin the necessary paperwork. In accordance with the wishes of your late grandmother, I am also instructed to inform beneficiaries of the details of her funeral. This is being held at 4 p.m. on 1st December at St Piran’s Church, St Piran. As local accommodation is very limited, family members are invited to stay at Trepassen House, where a wake will also be held. Please write to your late grandmother’s housekeeper Mrs Ada Warren if you would like to avail yourself of the offer of accommodation, and she will ensure a room is opened up for you. Please accept once again my condolences, and the assurance of my very best attentions in this matter. Yours truly, Robert Treswick Treswick, Nantes and Dean Penzance
A chip fell from Hal’s fingers onto her lap, but she did not stir. She only sat, reading and rereading the short letter, and then turning to the accepted-forms-of-identification document, as if that would elucidate matters. Substantial estate . . . beneficiaries of the will . . . Hal’s stomach rumbled, and she picked up the chip and ate it almost absently, trying to make sense of the words in front of her. Because it didn’t make sense. Not one bit. Hal’s grandparents had been dead for more than twenty years.
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 RuthWare.com or follow her on Twitter @RuthWareWriter.
"Ware absolutely slays with this rich and haunting homage to a good old-fashioned thriller. Her fourth — and perhaps best — novel is a murder-mystery classic in the making ... With her signature evocative storytelling, Ware methodically peels back layers and decades of family secrets, unveiling the dark ties that bind the Westaways. Each Westaway has skin in the game, and Ware has once again written a stellar cast of characters. Spooky and claustrophobic, Ware’s newest release will have you looking over your shoulder and sleeping with the light on. A master of atmosphere, Ware has crafted an indelible mystery with The Death of Mrs. Westaway."
– Katrina Sklepowich, Winnipeg Free Press
Praise for The Lying Game
“This is the sort of territory where Ruth Ware is most at home. She’s strongest when she’s writing about embattled women, best when characters have a slight sense of privilege about themselves, most effective when events creep along the edges of disaster. Ware’s new book has all of this plus an air of foreboding that won’t go away.”
– Toronto Star
“An addictive mystery that reminds us how lies can come back to haunt us, even when we think they’re long buried. An absorbing summer read perfect for a stormy night out at the lake, The Lying Game will capture your attention and hold it until the very end.”
– Winnipeg Free Press
"So many questions... Until the very last page! Needless to say, I could not put this book down!"
– Reese Witherspoon
"A single cryptic text, ‘I need you,’ reunites four friends in the stippled light of an English seaside village just as surely as it signals readers that they’re in the hands of a pro…The Lying Game makes good on its premise that tall tales have consequences, especially when they’re exposed to the glare of truth."
– New York Times
"Ware's third outing is just as full of psychological suspense as her earlier books, but there is a quietness about this one, a slower unraveling of tension and fear, that elevates it above her others...Cancel your plans for the weekend when you sit down with this book, because you won't want to move until it's over."
– Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
“Ware masterfully harnesses the millhouse’s decrepit menace to create a slow-rising sense of foreboding, darkening Isa’s recollections of the weeks leading to Ambrose’s disappearance… with arguably her most complex, fully realized characters yet, this one may become her biggest hit yet.”
– Booklist, Starred Review
"[An] engrossing psychological thriller... Ware builds up a rock-solid cast of intriguing characters and spins a mystery that will keep readers turning pages to the end.”
– Publishers Weekly
"Full of anticipation."
– Library Journal
"Another edge-of-your-seat thriller you don't want to miss."
“Readers who've devoured Ware's bestsellers The Woman in Cabin 10 and In a Dark, Dark Wood won't need much encouragement to pick up a copy of her latest thriller. This story…is as gripping and atmospheric as Ware's previous books, with unexpected twists around every corner.”
Praise for The Woman in Cabin 10
“Ware plunges the reader headlong into this action-packed, vivid tale, rendering one unable to come up for air until the very last page is turned.”
– Toronto Star
“A fantastic read. A fog-enshrouded cruise ship, a twisty puzzle of a murder mystery reminiscent of Agatha Christie, and unrelenting suspense. Batten down the hatches and prepare to read it in one sitting!”
– Shari Lapena, author of The Couple Next Door
“A dark and gripping thriller that will enchant readers.”
– Sarah Ward, author of In Bitter Chill
“A claustrophobic page-turner that’ll have you suspecting everyone. Agatha Christie for the WhatsApp generation.”
– Tamar Cohen, author of The Broken
“An atmospheric thriller as twisty and tension-filled as her debut.”
– The Washington Post
“A suspenseful mystery that entangles friendship, identity and memory with a possible murder.”
"Ruth Ware is back with her second hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck-tingling tale."
– Marie Claire
"A great modern whodunit!"
– New York Post
Praise for In a Dark, Dark Wood
“Prepare to be scared . . . Really scared! When I read this page-turning book about a bachelorette party gone wrong, I almost bit all my fingernails off!”
– Reese Witherspoon
“Who pulls a gun at a bachelorette party? The answers are unveiled with Gillian Flynn–style trickery.”
– O, The Oprah Magazine
“Reese Witherspoon’s making it into a movie, so read the book now. Before bed at your own risk.”
“Just try to guess how sinister this plot can get (hint: VERY).”
– Marie Claire
“[It] packs a noirish punch that would make the Queen of Crime herself proud.”
“Ruth Ware has written an exciting and amazing book that never stops circling the reader and clapping its cold hands over her eyes.”