The Hotel Westend by Ashley Lynch-Harris is a classic mystery with plenty of twists.
With eccentric characters, an historic hotel with its fair share of secrets, and an innocent ingénue with a good dose of curiosity, The Hotel Westend is a slow-boiling thriller that will have you guessing until the very end. In the beloved style of Agatha Christie and other British suspense classics, this murder mystery pays homage to the genre in an impressive way.
The gradual introduction of the characters – all heading for the same destination for an unknown reason – has the same slow pacing as guests arriving on a stormy night for a mysterious dinner party. Elsie Maisland isn’t like the rest of the growing cast, however. She is simply there by chance, but her curiosity leads her into the tangled mess of the Hotel Westend. The hotel she stumbles upon has a murderous past, and the strange group of guests that have assembled there are all connected to it in some way. Elsie Maisland is intriguing from her first introduction; she is charming and clumsy, claiming to “always be losing things,” but she is also perceptive and suspicious. In other words, she is the perfect hero for this story, especially since her sister, a famed mystery writer, would likely be right at home in this odd hotel at the edge of the world.
As Elsie explains in a letter to Frances, her sister, “It seems like some sort of sick game is about to begin, Franny. The pieces have been positioned and now it’s just a matter of waiting on the first move.” As the “elite” guests take notice of who else has come to stay at Hotel Westend, it becomes clear that everyone is there for a very specific reason, and everyone is linked in some dark, buried way. The Hartwells, Mr. Turnbull, Mr. and Mrs. Welling, Mrs. Tidwell, James Rennick…all of these eccentric characters, possessing all the pomp and mystery of Professor Plum or Miss Scarlet, have their own agenda. Readers are unconsciously sent on their own adventure to determine what those goals are, eager to unravel the mystery before the author pulls back each successive curtain.
When a new murder occurs about a quarter of the way through the book, followed quickly by another, Elsie’s bizarre stay at the Hotel Westend becomes something far more sinister. Armed only with her wits and the inspiration of her sister, Elsie takes it on herself to find the killer before she becomes the next victim. Packed with red herrings and meticulously crafted suspense, this novel is a quick read – mainly because it will be difficult to put down.
At times, the writing itself leaves something to be desired, particularly with the forced exposition through Elsie’s letters. Although it is a useful trope for sharing background information, it comes across as slightly simplistic. The back-and-forth tag team of Elsie and her sister is appropriate, given the characters, but it tends to lay out the narrative a bit too plainly, occasionally providing an unwanted summary that makes readers feel a bit talked down to.
Overall, The Hotel Westend is well-edited, with very few mistakes, and while some of the dialogue feels a bit forced, given the style of book, it has the sparse, dramatic flair that readers expect from a solidly-crafted mystery. Elsie Maitland is an undeniably fun character to follow, and the time that Ashley Lynch-Harris put into designing each of these unique characters reveals her passion for the genre. There are a few bumps along the way, but there is great potential in this young heroine, and in this author’s work.