Book review: The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

Sunday, November 18, 2018 Permalink

Everything recommending this novel talked about its ‘gothic’ nature. And it’s a theme or genre I usually shy away from. I think the fact it’s set in the present (ie. not historical) is something that appealed when I requested it and, though I worried we’d venture into ghosts or otherworldly territory, we never did and I read this in a sitting though hadn’t planned to.

Book review: The Stranger Diaries by Elly GriffithsThe Stranger Diaries
by Elly Griffiths
Published by Quercus
on November 1st 2018
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Crime Fiction, Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 178648739X, 9781786487391, 9781786487407
Pages: 384

Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. As a literature teacher specialising in the Gothic writer RM Holland, she teaches a short course on it every year. Then Clare's life and work collide tragically when one of her colleagues is found dead, a line from an RM Holland story by her body. The investigating police detective is convinced the writer's works somehow hold the key to the case.

Not knowing who to trust, and afraid that the killer is someone she knows, Clare confides her darkest suspicions and fears about the case to her journal. Then one day she notices some other writing in the diary. Writing that isn't hers...

This book has a number of strengths. Firstly I most certainly hadn’t guessed ‘whodunit’. I think the ‘why’ starts to become obvious but the who…. I had no idea.

Griffiths decision to tell the story via three viewpoints – sometimes recounting the same scenes and events – is very clever and works really well. All three women: Clare (obviously), her daughter Georgia and Harbinder (DS Kaur) all bring something very different to the unfolding plot and I liked all three characters though didn’t fully understand Kaur’s initial dislike of Clare – for no reason seemingly other than she was quite the opposite.

I couldn’t have coped if the diary entries had been some other-worldly source or if people thought they were, but the handwriting is linked to the crime scenes so thankfully we’re dealing with one culprit. A real / live one and there are a few to choose from. Indeed, as I said… given my antipathy towards tales of yore and gothic novels (etc) I think Griffith’s got a great balance here – sharing the mystery of Holland’s past with the current happenings.

And finally, there was something really engaging about her writing, particularly as it related to Clare’s character. It was – in fact – exactly how I would like to write and is ‘kinda’ how I think…. ie. in a snarky sarcastic way.

For example, when her ex-husband accepts her offer of a tea as long as it’s a ‘quick one’ she ponders…

How long does he think it will take? I’m hardly planning a Japanese tea-drinking ceremony.

He goes to the loo immediately but emerges to chat to me while I go about the laborious and time-consuming task of putting tea-bags in water. p 29

And when he comments on his (new) wife not sleeping well because their young child (Ocean) is not sleeping through the night,

I don’t blame her. She’s probably traumatised by that ridiculous name. p 30


Elly Griffiths is perhaps best known for her Dr Ruth Galloway mysteries – which I’ve actually heard of though not read – but this is a standalone novel and a very enjoyable one.

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths was published in Australia by Hachette and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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