Last year’s Edgar Award winner for best novel, Elly Griffin’s The Stranger Diaries looks at what happens when love turns deadly.
This was a particular favorite of mine from this year. For one, Clare Cassidy is an high school English teacher obsessed with a mystery writer, and it’s always nice to see oneself in print. While I am not a woman, and teach in America, not the UK, there was still plenty for me to relate to.
After a colleague is murdered, Clare’s life becomes entangled with the investigation headed by Harbinder Kaur, a detective sergeant who must hide her sexuality from her Sikh, immigrant family. While the novel is told primarily from Clare’s POV—her family and dating life, relationship to the victim, work on R. M. Holland’s short story “The Stranger,” and her diary all play key roles in the mystery—DS Kaur really stole the show for me. She is funny, insightful, and interesting whereas Clare is fairly straight-forward and, at times, stereotypical. It’s no surprise to me that Kaur has garnered her own series. (I just added the second book on Goodreads.)
In some mystery novels, the twists and turns feel predictable, the killer obvious. In others, the details are so well buried that the conclusion seems to come out of nowhere, and the detective seems like only a genius because the author made it so. The Stranger Diaries finds a happy middle ground. I was surprised by the ending, but not in a way that felt altogether satisfying. The killer’s motives felt underdeveloped and I didn’t hit my forehead and announce to my wife, “Of course! I should’ve seen it!” However, it did make sense, and the rest of the novel worked.
The school dynamics, the literary allusions, and the intriguing DS Kaur make The Stranger Diaries an incredibly readable novel that keeps you curious and guessing up to the last page.