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by Elly Griffiths
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 2019
352 pages
ISBN: 1328577856

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Elly Griffiths is no stranger to crime fiction fans. Her Ruth Galloway series first appeared on the scene in 2009, and since then she has penned nearly a dozen contemporary stories featuring the Norfolk-based archaeologist as she unearths bodies and balances an uneasy relationship with the married DCI Harry Nelson, with whom she shares a child. Griffiths' writing credits also extend to a mystery series set in Brighton during the 1950s, and featuring a mercurial magician named Max Mephisto. Both series have brought Griffiths both popular and critical acclaim; but not content with these considerable achievements, her most recent work is a standalone novel titled THE STRANGER DIARIES. It is a bold, if not downright audacious effort, and showcases the complex and original mind of this gifted writer.

Clare Cassidy is a high school English teacher in Sussex, and a divorced parent of a fifteen-year-old daughter, living an altogether ordinary life. But when a colleague and close friend is brutally stabbed to death, all of that changes forever. A handwritten note is found near the body. It says "Hell is empty" a line from The Tempest which concludes with "and all the devils are here."

The investigation is headed by DS Harbinder Kaur, an Indian woman who at thirty-five is still living at home with her parents. A graduate of the very school where the victim was killed, Kaur is cynical and judgmental, and prone to stereotyping those around her. She makes no exception for Clare, whom she regards as a woolly-minded academic, out of touch with the real world. But her attention focuses on Clare when she learns that Clare keeps a diary, and that someone has recently been writing in it. The handwriting matches that of the note found near her colleague's body, and it reads: "Hello Claire. You don't know me." Clare's literary interests focus on a long-dead writer of Gothic fiction named R.S. Holland, and the note in her diary bears more than a passing resemblance to a passage in another writer from the Gothic period, Wilkie Collins, which introduces a villain's addendum to a woman's diary, signing off with "Postscript by a sincere friend."

When a second victim at the school is found, with a knife in his heart and in a setting central to Holland's writing, DS Kaur is certain that Clare is at the centre of the killings, but her every attempt to prove the connection only raises more questions than it answers.

Told from multiple points of view, including that of Clare, her daughter Georgie, DS Kaur, and interspersed with passages from R. S. Holland's magnum opus, THE STRANGER DIARIES deftly combines elements of classic Gothic literature with a contemporary thriller that is entirely original. Griffiths' tale is atmospheric, nuanced, compelling, and suspenseful. A clear departure from everything she has written previously, it is a delightfully original and assured work that succeeds brilliantly, and should win her many new readers.

Since 2005 Jim Napier's reviews and interviews have appeared in several Canadian newspapers and on many crime fiction and literary websites, including his own award-winning review site, Deadly Diversions. His own debut crime novel Legacy was published in the Spring of 2017, and the second in the series, Ridley's War, is scheduled for release in 2019.

Reviewed by Jim Napier, March 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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