Quercus | November 2018 | 416 pgs
Fans of mysteries and suspense should be familiar with Elly Griffiths' Dr Ruth Galloway series and the Stephens and Mephisto series. The Stranger Diaries, however, belongs neither of these two series and is a good fit to readers who are new to her works. What's better, this story has a modern Gothic tone and has a "book within a book" concept which I'm sure the latter will appease many booklovers.
Clare Cassidy, our main protagonist, is a single parent to a 15-year-old girl and an English teacher teaching at Talgarth High. Talgarth High has its history but the most famous among all is the story of the deceased reclusive Gothic writer, R. M. Holland, as well as his wife, Alice Avery, who is believed to have fallen to her death and whose ghost is still roaming the old building of the school at its present day. Before the school, the old building was once called Holland House and R. M. Holland actually lived in this house. Holland was famous for his short story, The Stranger. When Clare is not teaching, she'll work on the biography of R. M. Holland. She's fascinated by him as a person and not to mention his works.
Clare and Ella Elphick are good friends and colleagues until the murder of Ella shocked the whole school and shattered Clare's world as well. To add intrigue to the murder, a note was left behind with a quote from The Stranger. DS Harbinder Kaur and DS Neil Winston are called to look into the case. To complicate matters, someone had left personal remarks on Clare's diary, indicating the possibility that the perpetrator is someone close and nearby. There are a few suspects in school, ranging from the department head to a delinquent student; all who seem to be flawed characters and have some agendas in mind. And when another dead body turns up with the same note behind, Harbinder knows she has to dig further and quickly before everything becomes a re-enacting scenes from The Stranger.
The Stranger Diaries was a wonderful read in every aspects. The author has done a wonderful job in creating the Gothic tone in this well-crafted psychological suspense, despite I felt the perpetrator's motive wasn't convincing enough but nevertheless still make a good read. The creep factor was the highlight of this book and the author has skilfully input this into the atmospheric setting of the old school as well as The Stranger (which was fully disclosed at the end of the book, much to my delight). As much as this was a plot-driven story, I felt it was very much a character-driven one as well. Narrated by Clare, Harbinder and Georgia (Clare's daughter), the reader gets to read about their most inner thoughts and some of the things which the others don't know about. I've to say I was most drawn to Harbinder but she's not the type whom one would find easy to approach initially. She's sharp, perceptive and fearless. She's also living with her Punjabi parents whom I found to be down-to-earth and doting towards their two grownup children. I hope there'll be a series featuring Harbinder and Neil as they've already grown on me.
As this is a buddy read with Lark, I hope you'll check out her review, too. (Thanks, Lark, for suggesting this book!) Below are my answers to her questions surrounding this book:
1. What did you think of R.M. Holland's short story The Stranger and how Griffiths tied it in with the rest of the novel? Do you think it added to the overall mystery?
The Stranger was an intriguing read itself, and I think the concept of tying it with the rest of the novel was both a clever and marvellous work by the author. It definitely adds some depth to the already suspenseful storyline.
2. Clare is an avid diary writer. Have you ever kept a diary? And how would you feel if a stranger started writing in it?
I used to keep a diary when I was in primary school but it was only for a short period of time. I remember it was quite a popular trend back then but sadly, I'd outgrown it as the time passed by. To be honest, I think I'd freak out if a stranger wrote on my diary. Then again, the stranger wouldn't stand a chance as I'll keep it locked in a drawer, ha.
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