Book Title and Author: The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths
Publication Date and Publisher: March 5, 2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Mystery, Gothic, Suspense
Pages: 352 pages
Buy on Amazon.com
Date Read: February 28, 2019 (e-arc)
Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. A high school English teacher specializing in the Gothic writer R. M. Holland, she teaches a course on it every year. But when one of Clare’s colleagues and closest friends 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 life collide with the storylines of her favourite literature.
To make matters worse, the police suspect 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?
I have to admit that until about two weeks ago that The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths wasn’t on my radar but then I read my dear friend Jennifer’s review on her blog (you can read her excellent review here), and I knew it was the perfect book for me, especially after Jennifer told me that she was positive that I’d enjoy it, which of course I did!
The similarities between one of the main characters, Claire Cassidy, and myself just made it impossible to not pick up the book…you see, Claire is an English Literature teacher who specializes in teaching her favorite (fictional) gothic writer R. M. Holland and his thrilling, horror short story “The Stranger” to her class every year while I’m a university English Literature professor who specializes in teaching gothic literature and the works of Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, and Ann Radcliffe to students. I couldn’t help but feel like Claire was a kindred spirit, and I really wished she’d been real just so we could chat over our shared love of teaching and researching gothic literature!
What I don’t envy (or have in common!) is how Claire almost immediately becomes the center of a murder investigation when her best friend and co-worker at Talgarth High, Ella is brutally stabbed. The killer leaves a note beside Ella’s body with these words from Shakespeare’s Tempest written on it: “Hell is empty”…words also quoted prominently in Holland’s short story, “The Stranger” that seems to suggest the killer is tied to Claire and that life is imitating art.
DS Harbinder Kaur, the detective investigating the murders, is even more certain Claire holds all the clues to the murder after Claire discovers a stranger is writing messages in her diaries; most importantly, the handwriting matches the writing left on the notes at the murder scene. Who is this stranger? Is it the killer? And what is the stranger’s connection to Claire?
There is some mega-nailbiting suspense as the story continues and as it does, the specter of R.M. Holland looms even more menacing than before! Excerpts from his short story “The Stranger” are interspersed throughout the book, and each one is more eerie, atmospheric, and frightful than the last, which ties in wonderfully with the chapters in the book. I could have believed he was a real writer because of his story and backstory of living in Talgarth High, the school where Claire now teaches, which is supposedly haunted by his wife’s ghost.
The novel is told by multiple narrators: Claire, Harbinder, and Claire’s 15-year-old daughter, Georgia. Each of them gives such different and exceptional views on what is happening throughout the novel although all three were a bit unreliable at times. It doesn’t matter though because Griffiths does an outstanding job making each one seem real, distinctive, and quite important to putting together this shocking mystery! By the end of the book, I really liked all three characters when I wasn’t sure about them at first, so Griffiths’ character development is simply amazing.
The Stranger Diaries is the ideal combination of gothic horror, contemporary suspense, classic whodunit, and detective fiction. It’s a dark, ominous bookish mystery since they is also a book within the book, which I loved, so I think that there’s something here for every mystery lover to enjoy, especially since the writing is brilliant, immersive, evocative, with a cast of incredible characters and a plot that is spine-tingling, page-turning, and beyond clever!
Although this was my first book by Griffiths, I now understand why so many of my blogging friends love her so much! She’s now a favorite new author, and I’ve already grabbed the first few books in her Ruth Galloway series. I’m most definitely recommending you grab a copy as soon as you can of her standalone novel The Stranger Diaries!
**Thank you, NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for an ARC to read and review in exchange for my fair and honest review. **