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Literary Glance: The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

June 11, 2018

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware has a much more interesting opening than Ware’s previous novel, The Lying Game.  I thought last year that The Lying Game was a bad title for a novel because it sounded like YA fiction. The Death of Mrs. Westaway is a much better title.  I wasn’t sure who Mrs. Westaway was when I started reading, and I often don’t like books with character’s names in the title because that leaves the reader with no frame of reference, but the word death always makes a title better.

Putting the word death in a book title will always make a certain percentage of readers pick up the book.  They might not read it, but they’ll at least look at it.  Just title the book DEATH (and all-cap it), get a picture of the Grim Reaper and a hot chick in skimpy clothes on the cover, and people will give the book a quick glance, no matter how bad the writing is.

But the writing in The Death of Mr. Westaway isn’t bad.  It’s pretty good, even for a nitprickety guy like me.  It’s much better than The Lying Game.  One improvement is how the author handles the narrator’s thought progressions to build tension.

Here, the protagonist/narrator Hal is opening her mail when she opens a suspicious envelope:

Inside there was just one sheet of paper, with only a couple sentences on it.

 Sorry to have missed you.  We would like to discuss you’re (note writer’s mistake, not mine) 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 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.

I’m not saying that this is the perfect scene.  There are a couple sentences that I would rewrite.  But the progression of thought in this excerpt (and the paragraphs that surround it) builds up the suspense.  And this isn’t even the entire set up.  Another situation comes up a couple pages later, a situation that makes the book even more intriguing (but I won’t get into that because that’s what every other book reviewer does).

A lot of authors mess up thought progression.  Literary authors turn thought progression into stream of consciousness and (sometimes) make the whole thing unreadable to an average reader.  Some best-selling authors use minimal (or no) thought progression, leading curious readers to wonder why characters are doing what they’re doing.  I don’t know what the rest of the book is like, but so far thought progression isn’t an issue in The Death of Mrs. Westaway.

Actually, I don’t have any real issues yet with The Death of Mrs. Westaway, except for a couple examples of questionable wording which makes people say I nitpick too much.   I don’t feel like being nitprickety right now.  I think I’m going to keep reading The Death of Mrs. Westaway, at least for a few more pages.

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