The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

J. L. Harland • October 19th, 2020

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths’ was a Times Crime Book of the Year. It is a tightly wound, gripping story with many layers. Central is the use of a Victorian Gothic story and literary references which builds suspense upon suspense until the final, well-hidden, resolution.

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths is a gripping crime story, with macabre and supernatural elements. The story centres around a school, Talgarth High, with its Old Building and nearby graveyard - a perfect setting for spine-tingling anticipation of horror, haunting and danger – and it is no coincidence that many of the events take place at night. The school and the associated, forbidding, presence of a derelict factory near Clare Cassidy, one of the main characters’ homes, add to the sense of constant menace and jeopardy.

The ongoing references to a Gothic a novel ‘The Stranger’ by R. M. Holland, who used to live in the Old Building, with murders that mirror parts of that story, creates reverberating tension – and there is the rumour that the house haunted … a mystery within a mystery… leading us to track and backtrack following possible motives and suspects.

The narrative moves from one character’s viewpoint to another in ways that make the story particularly absorbing to read. For instance, one character, Clare Cassidy, writes a diary. This is used both as a way of delivering the narrative and also as a means of adding tension; since in this most private of places Clare finds someone has read her innermost thoughts - and left her cryptic and threatening messages. It starts with the innocuous, but alarming, ‘tiny letters, all in capitals’-

HELLO CLARE, YOU DON’T’ KNOW ME

Another point of view is that of the police officer investigating the murders, DS Harbinder Kaur, an outsider in many ways – Sikh and gay, still living at home in her thirties, and an ex pupil of Talgarth High; which gives her an insight into the history of the school building and the Gothic tale being enacted so gruesomely by the murderer.

Clare’s daughter, Georgie, is also a narrator; a teenager with her own secrets and, at one point, someone who seems a possible murder suspect. She writes a diary too, but as part of a group in an online forum she shares with other pupils taught by the enigmatic Miss Hughes.

The tension screws are judiciously turned by a well-balanced mix of creepiness, the mundane and dark humour, with a steady, incremental rise of suspense about who is carrying out the murders - and who will be murdered next.

The Stranger Diaries, written as a standalone crime story, is published by Quercus and is Elly Griffiths’ eighteenth novel. She has also written the bestselling Dr Ruth Galloway crime series and the Stevens and Mephisto novels, with, additionally, four romantic mysteries set in Tuscany under her own name of Domenica de Rosa.

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