by Elly Griffiths
This deliciously gothic and refreshingly modern mystery is haunted by writer R. M. Holland’s short story, “The Stranger.”
In the story, three Cambridge students are being initiated into the Hell Club, a prestigious group known for its hijinks involving death, bones and open graves.
One is called “the Stranger.” The other two die during the initiation rituals. Throughout the Stranger’s lifetime, he receives clippings about the mysterious deaths of Hell Club leaders and members who follow.
For writer and English teacher Clare Cassidy, “The Stranger” is particularly apt to teach from because Holland’s home is one of the buildings on the campus of Talgarth High School where she works.
But when first her best friend and colleague Ella Elphick and then the head of the English Department Rick Lewis turn up murdered with notes referring to the story, things get terrifying. Rick is murdered sitting at Holland’s desk in his supposedly locked attic office in Holland House.
This book oozes atmosphere. It’s rumored that Holland’s wife Alice threw herself down the staircase and now haunts the building. The nearby sea coast throws out veils of fog and mist. Clare lives in a row of houses once home to workers at the cement factory behind the houses. While the houses have been gentrified, the factory is a hulking wreck reflecting odd lights and howling winds.
The refreshingly modern part of the story is provided by Detective Sergeant (DS) Harbinder Kaur. Kaur is a former Talgarth student. Her Indian family runs a liquor store. Tiring of roommates after university, she moved back home with her family. Her mother is a wonderful cook and her young nieces and nephews frequent visitors. Kaur is a lesbian, but hasn’t told her family.
Griffiths has nicely balanced the gothic atmosphere with the grounded character of Kaur. The terrifying notes in this story are not all blood and gore: Soon after Ella’s death, Clare discovers that someone has been writing in her own private diaries locked in a cupboard. Kaur recognizes the handwriting from the notes at the crime scenes.
Spooky or what?
THE STRANGER DIARIES won a 2020 Edgar Award for Best Novel.
The next book in the DS Harbinder Kaur series is THE POSTSCRIPT MURDERS.
If you have a taste for gothic, you might also enjoy:
About the Author: Elly Griffiths (1963 – )
Elly Griffiths is the pen name of Domenica De Rosa, and the author of two mystery series. One series features Ruth Galloway, and the second Detective Inspector (DI) Edgar Stephens and magician Max Mephisto.
Galloway is a forensic archaeologist who lives in a remote seaside cottage near King’s Lynn in Norfolk and teaches at the University of North Norfolk. The character of Ruth Galloway was inspired by both Griffiths’ husband who gave up a city job to train as an archaeologist and her aunt who lives on the Norfolk coast and shared myths and legends of the area. The first book in this series was THE CROSSING PLACES (2009).
The DI Stephens series is set in Brighton in 1950. The first book in this series was The Zig Zag Girl (2014).
She has also written a children’s book, A Girl Called Justice (2019) and five other books as Domenica De Rosa.
Griffiths read English at King’s College London and then worked in publishing for many years. She was the 2017 programming chair for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, a part of the Harrogate International Festivals.
She lives near Brighton with her husband and two children.