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.

Elly Griffiths: The Crossing Places (2009) Ruth Galloway 1

The Crossing Places

Elly Griffiths’ The Crossing Places is the first novel in her Ruth Galloway series. Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist, who lives and works in Norfolk. Ever since she participated in a dig ten years ago, she’s loved the marshes and is, since then, renting a cottage that overlooks an empty, wild landscape, and the North Sea.

This is a novel with a leisurely pace and Elly Griffiths takes a lot of time to introduce Ruth Galloway. I liked her right away. She’s a single woman, a bit on the clumsy side, and not exactly slim or very attractive. But that doesn’t make her a beggar when it comes to men. She doesn’t need anyone to feel whole and rather lives alone than in the wrong company. This was one of many character traits that made me like her instantly. And of course she’s an expert in her field.

The second main character in the series, DCI Harry Nelson, is likable in a gruff kind of way. The two complement each other rather nicely.

They first meet when human bones are discovered on the marshes and Nelson asks Ruth to identify them. Ten years ago, a little girl went missing. She was never found, but Nelson never gave up hope that they still might find her one day. Naturally, he assumes that these are her bones, but Ruth tells him they are over two thousand years old.

Shortly after this another small girl goes missing and Ruth is threatened. It looks as if she’s somehow roused the murderer and got in his way.

If, like me, you love your crime novels with a strong sense of place, then Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series is for you. It’s one of those, in which the setting is a character in its own right. The saltmarshes, the weather, the loneliness of the place, and the fauna, are all intricate parts of this book. But that’s not all this atmospheric book has to offer. Ruth is a great character and I’m curious to see how she will develop. Since she’s a forensic archaeologist, we learn a few things about archaeology, which I found interesting, although the way we learn about it, is a tad clumsy at times. But that’s really my only reservation.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s not edge-of-your-seat gripping and, in spite of the many suspects, I thought it was pretty clear who was the bad guy, but that didn’t diminish the story one bit.

I have to admit that I’m partial to Elly Griffith’s choice of setting. I’ve been in Norfolk and loved it and the way she captures it is great.

I discovered the novel thanks to a review on Crimeworm. If you love crime and mystery it’s worth checking out her blog. You’ll discover some great books.