“The Stranger Diaries” by Elly Griffiths – some excellent storytelling undermined by a very disappointing finish

The Stranger DiariesI’ve enjoyed Elly Griffiths’ “Ruth Galloway” novels so I was pleased to see a new standalone mystery from her that was gaining lots of four and five-star reviews.

My wife and I settled down to listen to the audiobook version over a few evening and mostly enjoyed ourselves.

We were amused by the sometimes cringe-making accuracy of the humour and the way the characters described each other. We speculated on where the plot might go and the identity of the baddy.

We discussed how structuring this tale of murder into first-person accounts / “stranger diaries” given by three very different women had the novel consequence of hearing three convincing female characters talking about themselves and their impression of each other without the comments being centred around men.

We enjoyed the way the contrasts and commonalities between the woman made the story richer: an English teacher with a fondness for Wilkie Collins and an obsession with modern gothic; her teenage daughter who dabbles in white magic and writing murder mysteries and a young Indian Detective Sargeant who is investigating the murders that the novel revolves around and who gives an outsider’s view on mother and daughter but who went to the same school that the mother teaches at and the daughter attends. Using a different narrator for each woman also gave a boost to the audiobook.

We were impressed by how convincingly “The Stranger”,  a short story at the heart of the novel, matched the style of M R James.

In other words, for the first nine hours or so of the novel, we were having a good time.

Tonight, we reached the dramatic conclusion with lives at risk, a rescue being attempted and the identity of the murderer finally being revealed but instead of going “That was good*, we looked at each other with raised eyebrows and said, “Is that it? Did I miss something”.

The ending felt cobbled together. The identity of the baddy carried all the conviction of a “the butler did it” solution.

I was so surprised that I began to reconsider the whole book, wondering whether Elly Griffiths was offering a kind of “Northanger Abbey” version of the gothic novel and I’d missed out on the joke.

I like Elly Griffiths’ books. I liked ninety per cent of this one but the ending left me feeling like I’d waited for hours for a Soufflé that failed to rise.

Listen to the SoundCloud extract below to get a feel for the M R James style story that opens the novel.

 

 

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