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Stranger Diaries - review

It is very hard to write a perfect book, because you'll always be judged against what has been written and read before. Maybe what we really need to say is is this particular book the perfect one by this particular author.

Then in a way, we judge just within their own sphere of writing and maybe we all do including the author, have a favourite, some don't like saying, others are quite frank...

I've read several of Elly's Dr Ruth Galloway mysteries, they are brilliant, her Mephisto series are again superb with a different feel.

But... THIS is perfect... or as I say, Perfect in relation to what we judge against...

It is a very well written, very clever, very involving and very 'knowing' book.

It takes an old somewhat unknown Victorian writer of Gothic Ghostly tales, who was associated with the school now a community one, previously a posher one, that is the focus of the activities.  So, we have all the stuff of modern day, a school that was seen and indeed probably was below par, a new dynamic head has made it regenerate, it has staff who try to make a difference and are close knit and involved with each other socially. We get to see them in and out of work, it's all beautifully observed with wry touches of social commentary and a knowing nod to perceptions within family dynamics, the they are always on their phones, when maybe the teenagers at question, actually aren't... the subtle way Elly narrates from multiple perspectives linking both sides of the situation, whether it's 'immediate to the case' or rather nicely, 'just within the reality of life' for the characters.

What makes it work the most, is the writing within the writing and the books within the book. We get snippets of discovery of the past and of the things behind the scenes in the setting of the writing of that, then we get the writing within this book, the dangers of diaries, whether they are ever meant to be read or not, sometimes... they will be..but by who and why?

We then get the alternating views of the case now and somewhat of the past, which is on several levels, there is the immediate case which is the grisly death of a much loved teacher, then there is the what happened when some of the protagonists went to the same school... and then there is what went on in the dim past and in relation to that period the way Elly uses knowledge of the Victorian university and Gothic writing scene is exceedingly good.

We have writing groups and online forums for writing, where it may or not be known who is who.... We get a very clever use of books within books and reading and perceptions of things from that perspective all the way through the book, even a nod to the reading online is bad syndrome, very ironically done from a teenager who really is reading and writing but is seen as typically just online by adults, this is brilliant.

There is a lot of humour within this book, it's used very effectively, jokes within the settings and also of the settings, it's very very clever.
The dynamics of relationships on all levels are handled with aplomb and the beautiful weaving of lives entwined from both plot itself and plot of lives within this plot is again sublimely done.

The links between the main characters are very believable, the nuance of teachers meeting on training courses, whats app over TV and the nod to the perils of using ones own name on social media are all really well done here.

The real devilish detail is in bringing the plot of the past to be part of the plot of today in a very chilling and clever way, the drip drip of the unfolding story of the life and deaths of the author of 'The Stranger' and the use of lines from within his real and unpublished work are very much a device of the writer who is at top of their field and that is Elly here.

Having the story partly told from the perspective of the teenagers within the story but as we would do in real life, kept away from what is seen as the grown up stuff, is excellent, Elly does write about this exceptionally well, her ability to see so many sides to the same problem is impeccable.

The discovery element of the book comes from all angles and is put to us so that we see the right and wrong bits, it's not like some books where you are desperate to guess things, you really do just go with the flow and want to see what the characters see.

The dropping of spoilers within the book is brilliant, they don't 'spoil' this book, they just show what is 'known' from without when we look within, the ability of writers to know plot tics and tricks and explaining it to the uninitiated is delightful.

What really makes this book work overall is the pace and the detail, it's never confusing, it's always apparent and always we want to know more, the Indian detective, Harbinder is a joy, her life and interactions are on a par with Jack Frost or Columbo in the way she becomes part of the lives of the suspects.

I try and not do detailed plot spoilers, I really just wnat folks to take my honesty of having read a book and decide if there is something for them to enjoy, I'd hate to read a book already knowing it's 'about' or 'why did they' or even 'how did they'.

So, here it's told form several viewpoints, each has a wonderful perspective within the book of it's own. The effects of the crimes are dealt with more so than the doing of the crimes and that is good, we don't need to see the way things are done to get to understand how and why they were done. The best bits are the things concerning who sees/reads/knows what... finding out thta you've written or said something that will have a deep impact on things is a key thing. Is the danger really of the Stranger or is it of the Diary of the not a stranger...

The part reading of the old story as we go is excellent and the way we find out the minute details from within this book about the lost parts of the past one are superb. This is truly a masterpiece of invention, deception and intrigue with real humanity and social observation added.
Elly has achieved much and deservedly so, to be able to say this book is 'perfect' I hope means a lot, it has everything you could want, a damned devilish plot, superb inter related characters, writing and inner writing, humour and nuance and meaning and most of all it is a gripping page turner, I started at 7pm and finished at 1am and it was a delight.

The bits about Cambridge and other universities now and then was excellent, the dealing with detail in research and writing itself within the book again is brilliantly done. Also a subtle link to her recent book, Stone Circle that deals with 'witch stones' and other mystical and earth magic/white witchery is used within this book too. The Hell's Club from the Victorian sequences is very effective too.

I really hope some of you do read this and her other books, she is a lovely and also is a very funny lady, but under that she is a superb writer with much to offer any reader. 

We have an event on Thursday 6th June 6pm in Bolton Library I've always said...use Eventbrite and follow venues you can access, also you can always email us and order a dedication or just a signed book ahead of or after if we still have stock, the shop page only offers a small sample of what we hold, just ask us about any book.

We do sell on amazon, we'd much rather you come direct, we'll be cheaper and it means we build up a connection, you can follow us on twitter too, @tonydoesbooks  It'd be nice to know some of you are sharing these reviews and blogs and spreading the word for events, even one of you coming or ordering helps...

Stranger Diaries is £6 and Stone Circle is £13.99 we have a selection of backlist too...

I'd always suggest looking on www.fantasticfiction.co.uk then amazon and then asking for anything you want, enjoy reading and enjoy meeting authors when you can...