Friday, October 8, 2021

The Stranger Diaries: Elly Griffiths

This is a modern mystery story with gothic elements. I bought it on the first day of the Planned Parenthood book sale, and I started reading it within a day or two. Gothic stories haven't appealed to me in the past, but I enjoyed this one. 

There are three main characters who share the narration of the story. All three are interesting, with very different points of view on life. Clare is an English teacher at a high school; a close friend at work has been brutally murdered. Harbinder Kaur is a policewoman working on the investigation of the death of Ella Elphick, Clare's friend. Georgia is Clare's fifteen-old-daughter, who is a student at the high school that her mother teaches at.  Some of Clare's sections are told via entries from her diary, which does play an integral part in the story.

 


What did I like?

For me it was a slow read, but every night I was eager to get back to reading the book. The gradual unfolding of events and examination of the key players kept me interested throughout.

I liked the structure of the book with the story told from the viewpoint of three characters. The main story was framed by a ghost story, which is slowly revealed throughout the book. 

Clare and Georgia have a great dog, Herbert, named after a dog in the framing ghost story. The mother / daughter relationship was interesting. Clare doesn't seem to have a clue about her daughter's interests and a lot of her activities, probably pretty normal for the parent of a teenager.

There are many, many references to books sprinkled throughout the story. Mostly older or classic books and authors. That feels natural with Clare being an English teacher and Georgia's interest in writing and reading.

I like all three main characters, but Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur was my favorite. I look forward to the next book in the series.


Negatives?

Although the solution to the murder seems to come out of nowhere, I should have expected the outcome.

Most of the story is told in present tense. The narration by Clare and Georgia are told via present tensely, mostly. The sections from Harbinder's point of view are in past tense.


The story takes place in October through early November, with many references to Halloween, so this was the perfect read for R.I.P. XVI (Readers Imbibing Peril).


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Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018
Length:    338 pages
Format:    Hardback
Series:     Harbinder Kaur #1
Setting:    UK
Genre:     Mystery
Source:   Purchased at the Planned Parenthood Book Sale, 2021.


24 comments:

Emma at Words And Peace / France Book Tours said...

Thanks, I definitely need to read this one!

Cath said...

Elly GRiffiths seems to like present tense writing as her Ruth Galloway books are written that way too. I didn't realise this was the first in a series. I must get to it as I have it on my Kindle so no excuse, especially as you liked it.

TracyK said...

Emma, I hope you like it and I would love to hear your thoughts on the book.

TracyK said...

Cath, When the book first came out I thought it was intended to be a standalone. I guess she decided to follow up with more about DS Harbinder Kaur. I bought that book at the sale also and I hope to get to it soonish.

It isn't that long, although it seemed like it when I was reading it.

CLM said...

I also found the conclusion/solution came a little out of nowhere. I had to reread it to see the clues I had missed.

I suspect it was intended as a standalone and she became intrigued by Harbinder Kaur as she got further along in the writing. I like her too! The second book is a little like The Thursday Murder Club.

I wonder if Louise Penny planned for Armand Gamache to be the main character in her series. I think the reason I was unmoved by the first book was that it was too much about the quirky characters of Three Pines. I am fond of them now but I hadn't embraced them then! I need to reread the first one but I gave away my copy before I fell in love with the series. As I often say, you only regret the books you give away . . .

TracyK said...

Constance, I am glad I wasn't the only one who was surprised by the ending. I think there must have been clues but subtle ones. I look forward to seeing how the 2nd one differs from this one.

I did not care for the first book in the Armand Gamache series either. That is why I am so far behind in reading it. I did not really get involved until the 4th book.

Judith said...

I simply loved this book! I think I read it at least two years ago.
Tracy, I did not finish the first book in the Gamache series either. Maybe I should start with the 4th book?
Hope you are well!

Margot Kinberg said...

I like Elly Griffiths' work very much, Tracy, and one reason is that she's very good at building atmosphere. So I can see how this book would draw you in. The characters sound very interesting, too. I have to say, though, that I usually very much dislike the use of the present tense. It pulls me out of a story every time. That said, though, Griffiths is one of the few authors who can keep me involved in a story despite the present tense...

Rick Robinson said...

I haven’t read anything by Griffiths, though this sounds like it might have possibilities.

But Louise Penny’s Gamache? Yes. The series began as Three Pines, and the focus was on that village, which I loved. I thought Still Life was terrific. As the series became more Gamache-centric, I missed the village aspect as the over reaching plot line became Gamache’s. Now I’m two books behind on a series that I loved!

Lark said...

I enjoyed this one, too, even though I'm not a huge fan of narratives written in the present tense.

TracyK said...

Judith, I do remember how much you liked The Stranger Diaries. I recently went to your blog and checked out your thoughts on the book again. I loved it too. At first I was put off by the gothic description, but then I read The Woman in White at your suggestion and love it.

As far as the Gamache series goes, you could probably skip book 2, but I did enjoy the 3rd one too, The Cruelest Month. I have read nine in the Gamache series now.

Sam Sattler said...

I definitely have to be in the right mood for a gothic novel, but this one sounds as if it has a lot going for it.

TracyK said...

Margot, I have a problem with present tense in fiction also, although I have read some books in that style and not even noticed the present tense. This one did not bother me too much but I know that some readers don't like it, so I try to remember to mention it in my reviews.

TracyK said...

Rick, a lot of people like Elly Griffiths' novels, and she does a very good job with creating interesting characters. I have been on the fence about the Ruth Galloway series, but this new series starts out well.

Regarding Louise Penny's Gamache series, I have enjoyed each novel I have read more than the previous one, which is a good sign. I like it when the Three Pines characters are included, but I have also enjoyed some that were focused more on Gamache. The last one I read, How the Light Gets In, was that type, but it does end up in Three Pines and he gets lots of help there. Three Pines is like a fairy tale city that is isolated, hidden from the world.

TracyK said...

Lark, I don't care for present tense either, in most cases. I especially liked the multiple narratives in this one though.

It looks like I am going to be reading several books by Elly Griffiths in the next few months. I have the fifth book in the Ruth Galloway series, and I have the next Harbinder Kaur. Plus I bought the first book in her second series, The Zig Zag Girl, which was written in past tense.

TracyK said...

Sam, to be honest, until recently did not understand much about the definition of gothic novels, and it seems like every gothic novel I read or hear about only fits some features of the gothic novel. Guess I have to try more examples.

Since this is a modern novel with Gothic elements, it worked for me. And I am reading another novel right now which is described that way -- The Thirteenth Tale. It is different from The Stranger Diaries, more spooky, sometimes creepy. I am liking it too, but it is also a very slow read for me.

Kay said...

I read this one a while back and liked it very much. Haven't read the next, but looking forward to it. I do like Gothic novels and have since way back when I read those spooky house/ghosts/a bit of romance stuff like Barbara Michaels, Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney wrote. I'll be interested in what you think about The Thirteenth Tale. I read that one way back, but it was good.

FictionFan said...

I loved the spookiness in this one, especially the ghost story which I thought was quite a good attempt at getting the style right for the period it was supposed to have been written in. I have the next book on my Kindle - must get to it!

TracyK said...

Kay, Although I know I have read books by Mary Stewart, the only ones I specifically remember are the Arthurian Tales. I have bought some old paperback copies of her books and will try some of those.

I am almost done with The Thirteenth Tale. I think I picked the right time for me to read it, so I don't regret putting it off for so long. I am liking it a lot.

TracyK said...

FictionFan, I was surprised that I liked the ghostly element in this book, just enough and not too much for me. I am very eager to get to the next book.

col2910 said...

I do like books where the POV changes frequently. I must read something I already have on the pile from Griffiths.

Laura@Reading Books Again said...

I have begun 2 Elly Griffiths books but set them aside. I must agree with you that her stories move slowly.

TracyK said...

Laura, I have problems reading the Elly Griffiths series because of the present tense, and I have to slow myself down to get into the story. This book was different because at times I did not even notice that parts were in present tense, so I don't know why it was slow going for me. Thanks for commenting, it is always interesting to get opinions about books and authors.

TracyK said...

Col, sorry that it took me so long to see your comment and reply. I was trying to think if the Elly Griffiths series changes POV much, and I think it does, but not so obviously.