The Stranger Diaries – Book Review

The Stranger Diaries (Harbinder Kaur #1): Elly Griffiths
Published on: March 5, 2019

In Stranger Diaries, Elly Griffiths has written a wonderful gothic story that combines a fictional Victorian-era short story with a modern murder mystery.

Clare is the single-mother of 15-year-old Georgie. She teaches high-school English in the house where R.M. Holland, the long-deceased author of short-story The Stranger, used to live. In her spare time, she researches the various mysteries surrounding R.M. Holland, mostly relating to rumors about his wife and possible daughter. Shortly in, Clare learns that her coworker and friend, Elle has been murdered. DS Harbinder Kaur and her partner Neil are assigned to the case, however, they find plenty of roadblocks during their investigation as the people who knew Elle feel compelled to hide certain truths from them.

Stranger Diaries uses one my favorite narrative techniques: a story within a story. Or, in this case, a short-story within a story. The book opens with the first part of R.M. Holland’s The Stranger. It’s laced with Victorian gothic-undertones and right away pulls us in with its mood and atmosphere. We only get a glimpse of the story at first, but little-by-little we receive the remaining portions of the story as events in the modern day mystery unfold. Outside of the short story, Griffiths encourages the gothic atmosphere by using a possible ‘woman in white’ ghostly sightings at the school along with references to a nearby abandoned factory.

While the series is named after DS Harbinder Kaur, it is Clare who is the main character. She is the first POV character we interact with as we follow her during the initial stages of the murder investigation, followed later by DS Kaur. When we finally get to DS Kaur it feels quite a ways into the investigation. But instead of starting us where we left off with Clare, it instead takes us back to the beginning and we get a glimpse into her view of events and interactions. I loved how this was done, especially since there was an unspoken ‘coolness’ on both their parts during the first few meetings. Clare has a stand-offishness about her. While DS Kaur make very snap judgements about people – especially Clare. What I appreciated is how the author slowly builds a bridge between the two women. And by the end of the book, the relationship had drastically changed from cool to warm.

I love a good mystery, especially gothic ones, and this one seemed to effortlessly combine a short story, relatable characters, and mystery together along with a range of possible suspects and motives. Although I immediately made a quick guess/snap decision on who the murderer was (and was right!) based on zero evidence, I was still second and triple guessing myself all the way through to the end.