“Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. A high school English teacher specializing in the gothic writer R.M. Holland, she teacher a course on him every year. But when Clare’s colleague and close friend is found dead, with a line from R.M. Holland’s most famous story, The Stranger, left by her body, Clare is horrified to see her own life collide with the story lines of her favorite literature. To make matters worse, the police suspect that the killer is someone Clare knows. Unsure whom to trust, she turns to her closest confidant, her diary, the only outlet she has for her darkest suspicions and fears about the case. Then one day she notices something odd. Writing that isn’t hers, left on the page of an old diary:
Hallo Clare. You don’t know me.
Clare becomes more certain than ever: The Stranger has come to terrifying life. But can the ending be rewritten in time?”
-Synopsis from inside front cover
*light spoilers below*
The Stranger Diaries is the first book in the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths. I have been wanting to read Griffiths for a while now after a fellow reader recommended her. I am familiar with the Ruth Galloway series that she writes, but I decided to start with The Stranger Diaries because there was a copy already available at the library where I work, and I found the synopsis to be very compelling and intriguing.
This book is going on my list of favorite reads for this year, and possibly favorite mysteries. I couldn’t put it down!
The story is set in West Sussex in a sleepy countryside town where Clare Cassidy teaches English at Talgarth High, and lives with her teenage daughter Georgia. One afternoon in October, Clare is informed that her colleague was found dead, and she is highly horrified along with the rest of the staff and the student body.
I didn’t realize that the story would shift perspectives until it went from Clare to the Detective Sergeant on the case, Harbinder Kaur. At first I didn’t care for Harbinder because she seemed mean-spirited, and suspected Clare right off the bat, not to mention that she was very judgmental. That feeling lasted about one chapter before I realized she is actually very funny and smart, and a character I started like.
We then get the perspective of Clare’s teenage daughter who also plays a significant role in the story. Interspersed with each chapter are excerpts from the fictional author R.M. Holland’s famous ghost story The Stranger which is very creepy and adds to the overall spooky mood of the story. I was definitely skittish while reading this because there are more than a handful of creepy moments where I had no idea what was going to happen.
“For a moment I’m genuinely afraid…It’s one thing to fear a thing for yourself, another to hear it confirmed in a matter-of-fact way by a Detective Sergeant. It’s as if the angel of death has flown over the room, flapping his grisly wings. Hell is empty.”from The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths
I don’t want to reveal too much, other than to say that this story was fast-paced, with something significant taking place in each chapter. The case developed quickly, with more victims as it progressed. I really had no idea who the killer was, only that it had to be someone close to Clare, if it wasn’t Clare herself, since so much evidence pointed to her.
Harbinder Kaur turns into a dynamic character and as I mentioned above, her personality really does come off the page. I thought she was hilarious and I can’t wait to read future stories about her.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a compelling mystery, especially those who enjoy stories set in England and Scotland, or are fans of Robert Galbraith.
I’m eager to read book two, The Postscript Murders, soon.