The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

I’ve long been a fan of Elly Griffith’s Dr Ruth Galloway mysteries, slowly reading one book after the other. There are twelve books by now, four of which I’ve read. She’s also been writing a new series, The Stephens and Mephisto mysteries. I was quite pleased to see that she’s now also writing standalone novels and since The Stranger Diaries, published last year, has gotten so much praise and was called a “modern Gothic”, I decided to read it.

The story is told from three different points of view. Clare Cassidy, a fortysomething English teacher, Detective Inspector Harbinder Kaur, and Georgia or Georgie, Clare’s daughter.

Clare teaches English at a school, parts of which are located in the house of a Victorian writer. R. M. Holland was famous for his chilling short story The Stranger. In her spare time, Clare is writing a book on the author. She used to be best friends with another English teacher, Ella, but for some reason, they aren’t really close anymore. When Ella is found murdered, Clare is unsettled for many reasons, one of which is a note found next to the body. It’s a line taken from The Stranger, a short story that hardly anyone knows.

Detective Kaur instantly dislikes the tall, beautiful Clare and suspects her to either know more than she admits or to be involved in the murder. When another body is found, under even more sinister circumstances, Clare begins to fear that she and her daughter might be next.

I absolutely loved the beginning of the story, told from Clare’s point of view. I loved the setting, the mystery, the characters, but then the book switched to Detective Kaur’s point of view and while her POV is convincing, I found the book immediately lost some of its drive and most of the atmosphere. When the third narrator was introduced, Georgie, it fizzled out even more. I did not care for her parts and would have wished they’d been left out.

That said, there were still elements that made this a gripping read, I just wished, she’d told it differently. What did not work for me at all was the ending. Was it a twist? Yes. Was it believable? Absolutely not.

I’m really in two minds about this book. There’s a lot to like here but, ultimately, because of the ending, it was a disappointment. I’ll still read more of Elly Griffiths but stick to the Ruth Galloway mysteries.

17 thoughts on “The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

  1. Wonderful review, Caroline! Looks like the book had a wonderful start and somehow couldn’t keep the excitement going when there was a change of narrator. Very sad. Sorry to know that the ending looks not very believable. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. I’ve seen this author’s books before but passed them by. Funny isn’t it, how a series can work better for a reader than a standalone and vice versa.
    Terrible when the ending just doesn’t work out.

  3. I’ve only read one of the Elly Griffiths Ruth Galloway series. I can’t say I was that wowed by it – I was expecting more having heard so much about the novels. Maybe I just started with the wrong one (probably also didn’t help that it was mid way through the series)

    • That’s often the case when something is praised so much. I’ve read the first four and liked them a lot. Especially the descriptions of where she lives.

    • I read the first four so far and liked them all.
      I noticed she’s writing much more these days. There might even be a second series. Maybe she was pressured? On the other hand, you should have an idea who your perpetrator is before you start and this was a very bad idea. A real shame.

  4. I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t like it as much as anticipated but maybe it is for some of the reasons you articulated. Certainly, the change in narrators was disruptive (I recently had to review a book in which the narrators changed frequently without identification, which I found very annoying) but I found the contrast between Clare and Harbinder interesting. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more books about Harbinder. I do prefer the Ruth Galloway mysteries but am nearly caught up with them (until The Lantern Men reaches my library). I also liked A Girl Called Justice, which I read before giving to my 12-year-old niece.

    • It’s not always easy to tell why a book didn’t work. I don’t always mind the change in narrators but these two didn’t work as they were so different as to make this a genre blend. Clare’s POV felt more like we were reading something Gothic, while Harbinder was more a straightforward police procedural. Many readers seem to have liked Harbinder and I agree, she has the potential of becoming the main character for a series. Thanks for letting me know about A Girl Called Justice. I’m looking forward to my next Ruth Galloway.

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