I’ve been wanting to read The Stranger Diaries for a while, having been suitably tantalised by the blurb, and I wasn’t disappointed. And on that point, a quick aside, on the art of the blurb. Too often, I find the book blurbs either oversell or mis-sell the story – after all, as reviewers we all know how difficult it is to condense a book down to a handful of words, and of course with the blurb there’s the added commercial pressure of trying to attract readers away from the next title on the shelf, so it’s not surprising that they are sometime far from the mark, but largely the blurb for The Stranger Diaries manages to offer a perfect tidbit of the novel. So a plus point for the publisher before I even get onto the novel.

Despite being a very prolific author, both under her real name, Domenica de Rosa, in which she writes contemporary fiction with an Italian flavour, and her pseudonym Elly Griffiths, under which she writes crime and mystery, somehow I’ve managed not to have read any of her books until now, and based on The Stranger Diaries that seems to be rather a mistake on my part.

Set up as a murder mystery with a gothic literary twist, the main story is framed within a wider story of the fictional author RM Holland, his mysterious life and his popular short story, The Stranger. This short story itself frames the novel, with extracts given throughout that slowly piece the story together across the book (the short story is also welcomingly included in its entirety at the end of the book), and it is highly impressive that the author pens an entire short story within her novel and so convincingly captures its genre and tone, as well as the main genre and tone of the main story as well. Within this framework then comes the modern murder story set in and around, RM Holland’s former home, and now a secondary school, Holland House, which has all of the requisite atmosphere and tension of the gothic setting. There’s certainly a very filmic quality that the author creates that would, I think, lend the book to successful adaptation to the screen.

The modern storyline is narrated in turns by Clare, a teacher at Holland House with an interest in the enigmatic writer, her daughter Georgia, a student at the school, and Detective Harbinder Kaur, each of whom develop the narrative and offer their own unique perspective on events. This structure builds the story brilliantly and each of the three narrators is superbly drawn by the author. Indeed, the novel overall is expertly constructed and written, with an incredible handling of plot and a mastery of storytelling. The story itself kept me guessing right to the end, and though some readers more familiar with the genre may be quicker to the answers than me, I really felt the author did an excellent job of concealing the truth with various red herrings and twists. Having said that, my one slight quibble with the novel was the culprit, whose opportunities and motivations for their actions I wasn’t entirely convinced of and whose unmasking and its aftermath all occurred too quickly for my liking. But, again, other readers may feel otherwise on this matter and I think, as such, this would make a really great and popular reading group book choice.

On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and was impressed by the author’s style and skill and certainly will not hesitate to read another book by Elly Griffiths/Domenica de Rosa. I can only blame myself for having waited so long before now.

Jade Craddock 4/5

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths
Quercus 9781786487391 pbk Nov 2018