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Saturday 17 November 2018

‘The Stranger Diaries’ by Elly Griffiths

Published by Quercus,
1 November 2018.
ISBN: 978-1-78648-739-1(HB)

A new Elly Griffiths novel is always a treat; the possibility of a new Elly Griffiths series is something to be relished. The Stranger Diaries appears to be a standalone – but with a sparky detective sergeant and a potential lay sidekick at the centre of things, who knows what may follow?

This dark tale has plenty in common with Griffiths's two established series; great writing, characters who live and breathe and locations you can see and touch are all a given, of course.  Like the Ruth Galloway series it's contemporary, though it does nod towards Victorian Gothic fiction; and like the Edgar and Mephisto books it's set on the south coast, though not actually in Brighton. But in most other respects it's completely different.

Clare Cassidy is a teacher, and a devotee of R M Holland, the Victorian author of dark and ghostly tales, whose biography she is in the process of writing. The school she worked at used to be his home, and his study is kept as a museum piece.

And then there's a murder, on Hallowe'en, no less, and the killer leaves a Holland-related clue!

The second viewpoint character is Harbinder Kaur, an ambitious young detective sergeant tasked with investigating the murder. There are plenty of suspects: Clare's head of department, with whom the victim was having an affair; a pupil with a crush on her; even Clare herself for a while – especially when her diary reveals more than she would like.

The diary moves even closer to the centre of the action when... but no, that would be giving too much away.

In true Elly Griffiths style, the narrative is well populated with interesting characters. There's Georgia, Clare's teenage daughter; Simon, her ex; Rick, the faithless head of department; Tony, the trendy head teacher; Mrs Hughes, a creative writing tutor and self-confessed white witch; not to mention Harbinder's entire boisterous Sikh family. And that's just for starters. The wonderful Griffiths sense of place is also very much in evidence; Clare's house, a spooky old factory and a Cambridge college are just a few of the vibrant locations which zing off the page.

As murder follows murder, it soon becomes plain that Clare is somehow a focus for the killer, though even she is completely mystified. And when the truth is revealed, we find that the evidence has stared everyone in the face all along.

The loose ends are all tied up in a way which implies that a standalone was all that Griffiths intended – but Harbinder Kaur is surely too intriguing a character not to follow up. Clare Cassidy could make a useful ally for her; theirs is a double act waiting to happen. But even if it doesn't, The Stranger Diaries is still a great addition to the Elly Griffiths canon.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Elly Griffiths is the author of a series of crime novels set in England’s Norfolk county and featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. The first in the series, Crossing Places, earned a good deal of praise both in Griffiths’ native country, England, and in the U.S. The Literary Review termed it “a cleverly plotted and extremely interesting first novel, highly recommended.  Since then Elly has written ten further novels featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway.  The most recent is The Dark Angel. Recently she has written a second series set in the 1950’s featuring magician Max Mephisto and DI Stevens. There are four books in the new series. Click on the title to read a review of Elly’s latest Max Mephisto Book. The Vanishing Box .

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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