Q&A: Ruth Ware, Author of THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY
Gallery/Scout Press; May 29, 2018
If I had to make a shortlist of authors I would love to interview about their work, Ruth Ware is easily in my top five - if not higher! I’m beyond thrilled, then, to be able to welcome Ruth to CBTB today to chat about her newest novel: THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY. On sale in the US today (5/29), THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY is Ruth Ware at her very finest. In this atmospheric and quasi-gothic story of long-kept family secrets, a case of mixed identities sets a young woman (Hal) on the path to claim a massive fortune… so long as she can successfully con her way into a wealthy - and very eccentric - family. Ruth Ware books have consistently been some of my favorite summer reads (and some of my favorite reads across the board), but THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY takes the cake. This book is deliciously atmospheric and completely engrossing, and the character of Hal is the kind of spunky, endearing female lead I love my crime novels to have. This is bound to be one of my top favorite reads of 2018 - and I’m confident you’ll feel the same!
In case you missed my full review of THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY, you can find it here—and here’s a brief snippet of what I had to say about the book!
Without further ado, let’s dive into my Q&A with Ruth Ware. Many, many thanks to Ruth for taking the time to answer my questions, and to her publisher for facilitating this Q&A!
About THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY:
On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.
Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance 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.
Author Q&A: Ruth Ware
Crime by the Book: First things first, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions! I’m such a fan, and I’m thrilled to have you on CBTB today. Let’s start at the beginning: where did you first get the spark of inspiration that became THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY?
Ruth Ware: Thank you so much for having me - I'm very honoured to be here! Mrs Westaway is one of those books that has no one, clear moment I can pinpoint to say "that's where it came from." But I guess, having written three books about women who stumble into extraordinary events through no fault of their own, I wanted to try something a bit different with my fourth, and I set out to write a book about someone who brings about their own fate. Hal actively sets out to commit a crime when she decides to claim an inheritance she knows is not meant for her - and I loved exploring her inner turmoil as she begins to deceive people.
CBTB: THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY incorporates a number of memorable settings and elements into its central mystery - but let’s start with the one readers are introduced to first. Tell us about Hal’s profession - what does she do for a living, and why was it important to you to give her this unusual profession?
RW: I knew from the start that Hal was going to, right from the get go, effectively con the Westaways - and so I wanted to give her a profession that would not only help her in her endeavours, but establish her right from the outset as being someone willing to deceive people.
I've always been fascinated by the overlap between con artists and fake mediums - the techniques they use to convince people, the different ways of "reading" a mark, how much we give away about ourselves online now, and how willing we are, sometimes, to be conned. I therefore decided to make Hal a tarot reader - but a sceptical one - someone who doesn't believe in the power of the cards, but simply uses her knowledge of psychology to figure out stuff about the people she interacts with in a deliberately cynical way.
That said, the more I researched, the more I found myself persuaded around to the usefulness of tarot as a tool for self reflection. While lots of practitioners do claim genuine occult insight, many people use it more as a way of delving into their own feelings, a kind of self analysis, if you like. Some of my favourite parts of the book are those where Hal is using the cards this way - turning them up and reflecting on the images she's picked out and what they mean to her. It became a really fun way to delve into her character. The images themselves are so rich in meaning, and so very beautiful, I think they are endlessly fascinating as objects.
CBTB: Much of this story functions like a "locked room mystery" worthy of an Agatha Christie novel—an old, remote mansion acts as the "room" in which a family, sequestered away from the world, uncovers a number of long-buried secrets. What is it about this "locked room"-style plot structure that always keeps crime readers coming back for more?
RW: I don't know - it's just really satisfying to read, isn't it? It's also really fun to write. If you give yourself a small, closed cast you can really go to town on getting to know those characters and putting them through the wringer. Because I write standalones, rather than series, I don't have the luxury of returning to the same cast over several books, exploring their characters a little more each time, this one book is my only chance to interact with them. I also think if you have a single or main setting, you can get to know the setting as much as the people within it.
CBTB: THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY has a fantastic sense of foreboding and grim atmosphere to it - an atmosphere that runs through all your books, in fact. As a writer, how do you get in the mindset necessary to write these moody, atmospheric stories? Is it something that just comes naturally to you, or do you have to seek out situations that inspire it?
RW: I'm a super cheerful person in reality so I have no idea where it comes from, but no, I don't seek it out. It seems to come naturally when I open up my computer! It's quite cathartic, I can get all my darkness and pessimism out on the page.
CBTB: Of all your protagonists, Hal is above and beyond my favorite. How would you describe Hal to someone who is “meeting” her for the first time?
RW: Oh thank you! That is so nice to hear. I love her but then I like all my characters so I'm not the best judge. How would I describe her... well, the first thing is that she's young - she's only 21 - and she's down on her luck. Her mother has died a few years before the story opens, she's all alone and she's struggling to make ends meet. She's also made some unwise decisions - she's turned to a loan shark to help keep her head above water, and now he's demanding payment. When salvation comes in the form of a letter offering an inheritance she cracks and decides effectively to con her way into the money.
But she's also someone with a strong ethical code who really struggles with what she's doing. I didn't set out to write a sympathetic main character, but I think she turned into that in spite of myself.
CBTB: What are you working on next? When can we look forward to another Ruth Ware novel? (I’ll be setting a countdown!)
RW: I am working on another book! But it's too early to say much about it, I'm still finding out myself.
Many thanks to Ruth for taking my time to answer my questions! What an honor to be able to share this Q&A and celebrate the release of THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY.
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press (May 29, 2018)
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