I class this book as a happy accident, found on Amazon deep in the Kindle eBooks section as I was on the hunt for a thriller/mystery to read. I had never heard of it or the author, Elly Griffiths before, never read anything from her pen. I checked out the synopsis, previewed the first few pages and based on that gave it a go.
The Stranger Diaries tells the story of the hunt for the murderer of Ella Elphink, an english teacher at a down and out school in an average british town. A mixture of old and new, the school is most famous for having been the former home of a well known ghost story writer, R.M Holland. In fact his study is still kept intact on one of the upper floors in the oldest part of the school. His short story, The Stranger, features prominently throughout the narrative and is the favourite of one of the teachers, Clare Cassidy, who was a close friend of the dear departed Ella … or was she?
I’ll start by saying that I don’t think you could make the claim that this story is great literary crime fiction but I don’t think that is a negative that counts against it. To be honest sometimes all you want is a solid, fast moving, easy to read tale with an engaging plot and this is what I got with The Stranger Diaries. I mean, I finished it over several days which is some kind of record for me as I tend to read at a reasonably slow pace, so it definitely hooked me and kept my interest throughout.
And it did have some talking points, including one big stylistic one. The book is split into parts containing chapters. Each of the parts is told from a different character’s perspective – Clare Cassidy (english teacher), DS Harbinder Kaur (the gay female police officer of indian descent investigating the crime) and Georgia Newton (Clare Cassidy’s daughter and pupil at the school where her mother teaches as did the victim Ella). As a result of this we get to ‘see’ the same events from different perspectives which I found a very enjoyable narrative tool. Normally as readers we only get to experience the plot through one set of eyes (at least for me and the works I have read) so we are bound to one interpretation and meaning. If this is a falsity, it will in all probability be revealed to be so at the end when the killer is unmasked. Whereas here, we get a duality of perspective throughout. This is most effectively seen with Clare and Georgia – mother and daughter. Clare’s total misreading of Georgia is almost darkly funny (although I’m not sure if that is intended) but at the same time sinister and worrisome. It actually adds a lot to the make-up and presentation of the characters, giving them their own voice. So that was a definite plus.
PS. I think this would have been a great way to also introduce the concept of the unreliable narrator (as in Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) into the mix. That would have really spiced things up and had readers guessing. It would also have compelled a second read just to make sure that the author had stuck to their own rules and to explore the hidden meanings in the text. But it wasn’t to be.
Some other reviews I read of this book said that they thought the plot a bit clunky and by the numbers which I suppose is true. There is certainly nothing groundbreaking about it. No real twists or literary innovations are introduced but then again, how many books do that in this day and age. I would go so far as to say that the misdirection used is a bit obvious and the eventual identity of the killer felt, to me, not quite right or genuine within the bounds of the world of the book which is a shame. But in saying all this I didn’t actually pick who the perpetrator was so the author was doing something right in that sense.
Look, I liked this book. It is no means perfect but that’s ok. It did what it set out to do – tell a fun and interesting story and that was exactly what I was looking for. You probably won’t remember a few months after reading it but as long as it was enjoyed at the time, then I don’t think there can be many complaints. A good solid read I reckon.
(Header Image: Sarah Kreig)