Series: Harbinder Kaur #1
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on March 5, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Gothic
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Death lies between the lines.
A dark story has been brought to terrifying life. Can the ending be rewritten in time?
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...
The Stranger Diaries is a contemporary mystery, but with the feel, and potential hauntings, of a gothic novel. Modern gothic novels don’t always work for me, but the combo was flawless here.
Clare Cassidy is an English teacher at Talgarth High; she is divorced and has a 15 year old daughter, Georgia. At the school, there is a building where R. M. Holland, a reclusive Victorian writer, lived. Clare is writing a biography of R. M. Holland and is interested in the death of his wife, Alice Avery, whose ghost haunts the school. Then, Clare’s best friend and colleague, Ella Elphick, is found murdered with a note that is a quote from Holland’s “The Stranger”: “Hell is empty.” The whole story is actually framed by Holland’s creepy “The Stranger,” with bits thrown in at just the right times.
The Stranger Diaries is told from three female points of view, Clare, her daughter, and DS Harbinder Kaur, the lead investigator on the case. In a lot of ways, it’s a police procedural, with the requisite clues and interviews, but with the different viewpoints, we get such a fuller picture of the whole situation. Clare is scared. Georgia knows more than she’s saying and has a lot of secrets from her mom. Harbinder might be the most interesting of the three women. She’s got a unique back story that intersects well with the current mystery.
The suspect pool was good. We couldn’t really be sure that anyone was innocent, even most alibis were pretty weak. I maybe was a little disappointed in the ending, but not enough for it to ruin the story.
The characters were real, multi-faceted people, and the atmosphere was just spooky enough. There’s an adorable, brave dog, and when you add in the literary references from Shakespeare to Heyer that are sprinkled thoughout, it’s no surprise I loved it.
The Strange Diaries would be a perfect read for October, by the way, as the quote at the top suggests.