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review 2018-11-12 23:35
"The Stranger Diaries" by Elly Griffiths - some excellent storytelling undermined by a very disappointing finish
The Stranger Diaries - Elly Griffiths

I'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.


[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/515618340" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]


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review 2018-10-08 15:52
A Story Comes to Life
The Stranger Diaries - Elly Griffiths

A teacher of creative writing at a British middle school begins experiencing disturbing events that mirror those from a short story in Elly Griffiths’ The Stranger Diaries.  Clare is a respected and well-established instructor and researcher at Talgarth, hired during a restructuring effort after the school had experienced a downturn.  She lives with her teenage daughter, Georgie, and her beloved dog Herbert.  The novel opens as Clare is teaching her adult ed course, using as an example a ghost story that was written by the man whose house they are using for their class.  She is interrupted by her department head with the news that Clare’s close friend and colleague has been found murdered on the grounds.  Griffiths interposes sections from the short story within her narrative, along with alternating points-of-view between three women: Clare, Georgie, and Harbinder, the lead detective assigned to investigate the homicide. When more murders occur, it becomes increasingly apparent that Clare is at the center of the mystery.  Someone close to her must be responsible, leaving her messages and quotes in her personal diary- or could it be Clare herself committing the crimes?  The book contains many unexpected twists and turns, some of which are a bit contrived.  There are also some plot elements that are also somewhat far-fetched and very convenient in retrospect. Some of Griffiths’ references and allusions may not be familiar to audiences outside of Great Britain, but nothing pivotal is lost in terms of the story.  The Stranger Diaries provides a decent mystery, and the character of Harbinder is especially well-drawn and provides a unique perspective.  If this standalone novel were to be developed into a series, her character would be one that would be interesting to follow.


Thanks to Edelweiss and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for an Early Review copy of this book.

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review 2018-05-03 07:53
The Dark Angel (Ruth Galloway Mysteries) - Elly Griffiths

Ruth Galloway,a forensic archaeologist,goes to Italy at the request of a Italian colleague (and a former one-night stand). Bones have been found at an excavation that raise a lot of(historical)questions. While Ruth stays in a medieval village in the Lazio region,she is confronted with the strange behaviour of certain characters and of course,murder.
This is the 10th book in this series and as with all series,the quality is somewhat variable. The mystery of the Dark Angel feels like a frame story to the story of Ruth's relationship with the father of her daughter,a married D.I.,who's wife is pregnant but perhaps not by him(on/off,on/off, I want you,no,I don't....)Perhaps closure of this particularly relationship might be a good thing for both the characters and for the storyline.

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review 2018-04-18 10:35
The Crossing Places - Elly Griffiths

Bones that appear to belong to a child have been found on the salt marshes of Norfolk. DCI Harry Nelson calls in archeologist Ruth Galloway to see if his fears that the bones are that of a local girl who vanished ten years ago are confirmed. Whilst these bones are found to be dating from the Iron Age, Nelson is determined not to give up looking for the missing child. He seeks Ruth’s help in deciphering taunting letters sent to him. Then a second child goes missing and Ruth is drawn further into the case, and closer to danger.


The characters help make the story. Nelson and Ruth both clash yet complement each other, he being taciturn to her more gentle yet professional nature. This book very much sets the tone for the series, establishing characters so that the reader will want to read more about them in future novels.


I had figured out who the murderer was from quite early in the novel but this didn’t spoil my enjoyment. It was interesting to see how the clues were laid out and either missed or picked up on by the characters. The blend of archeology and detection was just right, it never felt like Elly Griffiths was trying to information dump on the reader. The history of the location blended well with the modern-day mystery.


The only issue I had with the novel was the repeated references to Ruth’s weight. I understand that the author has to paint the picture of a character so that the reader can easily visualise them in their mind’s eye. However it almost got to the point where Ruth was defined by her size and not her intelligence, skill or knowledge.


The Crossing Places has the air of a Sunday night serial drama about it, and I mean that in a positive way. There was something comfortingly familiar about the novel and the characters, where a fictional world was created that welcomes a regular return.


The good thing about being late to an established series is that there are lots more books to catch up on. I have the feeling I’ll be busy for a little while.

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review 2018-03-17 16:04
The Chalk Pit
The Chalk Pit (Ruth Galloway Mysteries) - Elly Griffiths

I meant to get this review written last week, right after I finished this marvelous book, but, well, I was traumatized by Nelson and Ruth. How can you keep doing this to me? Auuuggh!


I loved the plot, anything having to do with tunnels and hidden entrances sucks me right in, and this fiction-is-stranger-than-fiction plot was a real roller coaster; I never would've guessed the ending in a million years! The plight of "rough sleepers" was highlighted with compassion and humanity and watching the investigation unfold into edge-of-your-seat action kept me turning pages late into the night. At the heart of these books, beyond the suspenseful plots, is a knot of close-knit lovable characters who have evolved and grown throughout the series, creating a real connection (at least for me. Why, Nelson and Ruth? WHY?) Nelson's new boss, Jo, is a great character and watching her become part of the team felt...rewarding? Satisfying? Both, I guess but I can't wait to see more of her!

The next book in the series is due out in the US in May and I'm already chomping at the bit to be tortured agonized reeled in by Nelson & Ruth in yet another mystery.

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