Lead Review

  • Book: The Stranger Diaries
  • Location: Sussex
  • Author: Elly Griffiths

Review Author: tripfiction



This is the first novel I have read by Elly Griffiths (this is remiss and I will address that as soon as possible!). She is a prolific and very popular writer and is to date best known for her Dr Ruth Galloway mysteries and the Stephens and Mephisto novels. The author herself describes this stand-alone novel as modern Gothic.

Talgarth High is partly housed in the building that once belonged to author R M Holland. There is a lot of mystery both in his book, The Stranger, an anthology of ghost stories, and also in his life as a whole. A woman is known to have fallen down the stairs, and she will occasionally appear to people when there are untoward happenings. The links between his storyline and events in the present cannot be overlooked and soon his original text is being studied with great diligence.

It’s October half term at the school. Halloween is approaching and one of the team in the English department is found dead. Murdered. Gratuitously stabbed, with potential stigmata on her hands. Ella Elphick was a much loved member of the team. There is a note by her body with a quote from The Tempest, …Hell is empty….(which continues with … and all the devils are here….). So, the murderer is certainly au fait with english literature! (The author explained that she has always loved the work of Wilkie Collins and the message at the heart of The Woman in White’s Greetings from a sincere admirer… certainly inspired the storyline!)

Claire, one of her closest friends and likewise a teacher in the English department, keeps a diary and as she looks back to refresh her memory of certain events, she discovers a note at the bottom of one entry: Hallo Claire, you don’t know me… which leaves a frisson for her to digest. The mystery of this killing seems inextricably linked with her diary entries and when another murder occurs, the police team headed by DS Harbinder Kaur has to ramp up its investigations as it seems the English Department at the school is being targeted.

Harbinder talks to camera, as it were, to the reader, as does Georgie, Claire’s daughter. The thought processes of both belie the outer personas presented to those around. Harbinder in particular is a sassy character, perhaps just a little stereotyped.

As the autumn winds and colours prevail, the spooky backdrop increases. Talk of the ghost of a white-clad female ghost and an English teacher who considers herself to be a white witch all add to the atmospheric aura. Rustling in the bushes, flickering lights in the disused and derelict factory behind Claire’s house cause alarm to Claire and Georgie living so close by. What is real, what is imagined?

The author is wonderful at sharing her knowledge of writers and texts in her writing, making it feel like an erudite approach to crime writing. It starts so well and is indeed gripping. Very readable. Recommended.

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Enter the 2021TripFiction 'Sense of Place' Creative Writing Competition!

A story in which the location plays as important a role as the rest of your words.

2,500 word maximum, 750 word minimum

Judges include Victoria Hislop and Rosanna Ley

First Prize of £1,000 / US$1,350

Prizes total £1,750 / US$2,362 

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Entries close 6th November 2021