On returning from holiday in April, I indulged myself by reading the new hardback by Elly Griffiths (see my blog on her Ruth Galloway series) - The Stranger Diaries. Set just outside the village of Steyning, which I know well from the years I lived in Brighton, the main character Clare, her daughter Georgia and their dog Herbert live in the small row of cottages in front of a disused cement factory. It was fun to drive right past the cottages on my way to show some American friends around Brighton the week I was reading The Stranger Diaries. Clare’s colleague Ella is killed at the beginning of the book and a devastated Clare uses her diary to express how she is feeling, as she is drawn further into the mystery, and as she finds herself, her friends and family increasingly in danger.
The story is told from the perspective of three of its characters – Clare herself, Harbinder, the detective who is trying to find Ella’s killer, and Georgia. Clare teaches English and creative writing at a secondary school, Talgarth High, that was once the home of gothic writer RM Holland, whom Clare is fascinated in and is trying to write a book about. His history and the present become more and more intertwined, as Clare meets a Cambridge academic also interested in Holland and as Holland’s study becomes central to trying to catch Ella’s killer. Georgia is attending classes of the spooky Miss Hughes at the local sixth-form college, is dabbling in a bit of black magic with her friends and is hanging out with her much older boyfriend Ty. Harbinder is an old-girl of Talgarth High, still living at home with her Sikh parents, enjoying her Mum’s excellent cooking and keeping the fact that she is gay to herself.
Telling the story from these three perspectives is a very effective technique, and is also a reminder of how little that parents of teenagers really know about what their children are getting up to. Griffiths herself teaches creative writing at West Dean College, which the author’s note says was the inspiration for the setting of Talgarth High, and I loved the various tongue-in-cheek nods to creative writing techniques throughout (including the surprisingly high level of tension that can be built up by harming an animal rather than a human for instance). Thankfully, Herbert the dog survives the book.
I do hope that the Stranger Diaries becomes the first in a new series for Griffiths, as Clare and Harbinder are too interesting not to return to.