One of the most repeated pieces of anecdata I hear in higher education is that English majors are highly employable in all sorts of fields. I’m sure most of us end up as teachers, librarians, editors, and writers. But, after reading The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths, I’m wondering if English majors might not also make very good detectives. We’re taught to read between the lines of what people are telling us and to recognize that everything is a narrative with an agenda behind it. Plus, it’s sure handy to be able to spot the source of literary quotes left by a multiple murderer.
The Stranger Diaries is narrated by three women who are all keeping secrets from each other and who all, more or less, distrust one another. Clare Cassidy is our first narrator. She teaches English at a comprehensive school in Sussex that also happens to be housed in the same building as a Victorian author (fictional) she loves. Then, after Clare’s friend is brutally murdered, Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur takes over. Kaur doesn’t care much for Clare—not only does Clare strike Kaur as a bit self-centered but Kaur also knows (and so do we) that Clare is hiding useful information. In spite of her initial dislike of Clare, Kaur is a very good detective who remembers her English literature and, more importantly, how to stay suspicious when people tell their stories. Our third narrator is Clare’s daughter, Georgia. Georgia, like all teenagers everywhere, believes that she knows enough about the world that she has to shelter her mother from her burgeoning coven and unsuitably older boyfriend.
The three take turns telling an increasingly complicated—and very well-plotted—mystery. There are plenty of plausible suspects. There are red herrings that may or may not be red herrings, each ratcheting up the tension another notch. Best of all (at least for me and bookish readers) there are metafictional elements and quotes from The Tempest and The Woman in White to enjoy. Plus, Griffiths includes passages from the Victorian writer’s best known story, “The Stranger,” to make things even more spooky.
I really enjoyed The Stranger Diaries. I didn’t mind bouncing around from prickly narrator to prickly narrator. I loved using my English major skills to work out what all of them were doing and thinking as they all followed different agendas and different breadcrumbs of clues: it’s a lot of fun to be the only person with perspective. I would definitely recommend The Stranger Diaries to readers who like literary mysteries with complicated-but-ultimately-logical conclusions.
P.S.: The dog lives.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.