The Stranger Diaries By: Elly Griffiths Book Review

Rating: 4 out of 5

Overall: A complex, multi-layered narrative that’s easy to follow and enjoy. Very well done.

I’ve always been a fan of gothic horror novels since my later high school years; devouring the pages of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, short stories of Edgar Allan Poe, as well as the contemporary (less gothic) works of Joyce Carol Oats which I enjoyed much later in life, in particular, The Accursed (2013). When I recently came across The Stranger Diaries by Domenica de Rosa (pen name Elly Griffiths), I was taken aback by her ability to retain the elements of a gothic story; like a time capsule released in a modern day setting. It’s obvious that Elly is no stranger to works of the great gothic writers of the past, and yet her influences refrain from dominating her true voice as a writer; a feat not many are able to accomplish.

The Stranger Diaries takes place in a small town off the coast within the Sussex county of the UK. Centered around Talgarth High School, once the home of famous gothic writer R.M. Holland, The Stranger Diaries delves into the life of English teacher Clare Cassidy and the unfortunate events that unfold around her. A self-proclaimed expert in R.M. Holland’s work, Clare Cassidy’s pursuit in writing his autobiography is aimed at solving the mysteries of not only his literary labors, but the puzzling circumstances of his personal life. During a normal school term in the Fall, one of Clare’s colleagues (as well as close friend), Ella Elphick, is found murdered in her home. A single note is discovered on her body which reads, Hell is Empty; a quote from R.M. Holland’s short story titled, The Stranger. As the case for Ella Elphick is under investigation, Clare’s personal relationship is put into question as details between the two begin to unfold. Turning to her personal diary for clues, Clare Cassidy becomes a focal point when she discovers a hand written message that isn’t hers which reads, “Hello Clare. You don’t know me.

Told through the perspective of three major characters; Clare Cassidy, her 15 year-old daughter, Georgie, and Detective Sergeant (DS) Harbinder Kaur,  The Stranger Diaries pays homage to gothic framework with an approach maintaining a contemporary relevance. I appreciate how Griffiths’ method of utilizing three unique perspectives adds depth to the overall narrative of the story; although Clare Cassidy remains the counterpoint of the novel. Yet what I found most interesting regarding Griffiths’ approach to her storytelling in The Stranger Diaries is the interwoven short story, The Stranger, by R.M. Holland. These various excerpts throughout the novel contribute not only to the overall plot and tone, but bridge the modern world with the inspirational framework of gothic literature. Perhaps this was Griffiths intention. Griffiths also employs self-referential (meta) points sprinkled throughout the novel by calling attention to details within The Stranger and having them play out in The Stranger Diaries; or perhaps anti-mimesis is at play?

The Stranger Diaries is a complex, multi-layered narrative that’s easy to follow and enjoy. The characters, especially our three narrators, are very likable and developed very well by Griffiths. Although there isn’t much to character development or growth, Griffiths provides some real depth with rich, relatable, characteristics to each of our characters and their backgrounds. As the mystery unfolds throughout the novel, the story’s pace hardly treads the mundane with irrelevant details other thrillers tend to fall prey. Interestingly enough, Griffiths short story, The Stranger, kept me wanting to reach its conclusion aside from the main plot of the novel. There was even a slight tone of horror which I can always appreciate and give Griffiths an extra nod of respect for. Well done. The Stranger Diaries gets a high five and a definite recommend for mystery/thriller lovers, and perhaps just book lovers in general. Thanks for reading!

Master of the Moors By: Kealan Patrick Burke – Book Review

Rating: 5 out of 5

Overall: A terrifying novel of the repercussions of love, loss, revenge…and beasts 🙂

Even with the obvious notion that Master of the Moors is heavily influenced by classic gothic horror, Kealan Patrick Burke possesses a remarkable gift in maintaining a refreshing read without ever letting his novel feel ‘dated’. Burke’s use of visuals and keen eye to detail translates perfectly onto each page, constituting an innovating experience allowing readers to visualize, in great detail, the atmosphere, dialogue, characters, and terrifying sequences that make Master of the Moors an excellent choice for a read. Burke’s attention to detail sprinkled throughout the pages is definitely put to use as an immersive tool, and one that kept me engaged the entire time. Describing the moors in the opening sequence immediately placed me in the midst of fog shrouded by darkness. Yes, I was already freaked out.

Master of the Moors, published in 2008, takes place sometime around the 1800’s within the moors of Dartmoor by Brent Prior (village). A tragic occurrence unfolds in one particular foggy night as the search for a woman in the moors turns deadly when the rescuing party falls victim to an unseen, sinister force amidst the unforgiving darkness that consumes them. Years later, we find Brent Prior as a village plagued with loss as its’ inhabitants are resigned to a constant feeling of impending doom. The haunting visuals effectively reels the reader into the pages of Burke’s evocative writing; materializing each word in building the atmosphere and tension of Master of the Moors

In Brent Prior, we find aging groundskeeper, Grady, responsible for tending to the manor of his employer, Mansfield, who’s currently in a catatonic state since the fateful night in the moors years prior. Mansfield’s children, Kate and her blind younger brother Neil, tend to be the subject of ridicule, mainly due to Neil’s loss of sight. As tensions build amongst the townsfolk, the arrival of a stranger (donning frayed bandages) wielding a disfigured semblance initiates a series of disappearances, as well as a mysterious fog that shrouds Brent Prior. The town is under siege by a force none can explain. Yet as the townsfolk find comfort within the confines of Brent Prior, away from the dangers of the moors, it is the mysterious fog that brings the threat of the moors to their doorstep.

Burke unleashes the forces of revenge, passion, love, and terror in a character driven narrative that often led me to blurring the lines of good and evil throughout my read. Each character arc was far from predictable, and often times offered a fair share of surprises that had me put the book down to gather my thoughts. Perhaps this was attributed to how ‘real’ these characters felt, making them so much more flawed and unpredictable. Yet I found myself revisiting several sections of the book and found little clues regarding each character that really put things into perspective; such as one’s intrinsic qualities could be the instrument of their own demise.

As an American, I found the dialect to be a nice departure from the more recognizable Americanized expressions I am acquainted with. Burke has a knack for keeping dialogue natural; not once do I ever feel discourse is out of place in any of his work.

Master of the Moors presents a terrifying novel about how the repercussions of love, loss, and revenge can reveal the wickedness in our hearts. What I found most intriguing was the malice not only lies within the moors, but inside Brent Prior itself. Kealan Patrick Burke has an impressive, as well as versatile, body of work that I always enjoy reading. Master of the Moors is a highly recommend read and a great start for those who’ve never ventured into Burke’s world. About three years ago I reviewed a novella by Burke titled, Sour Candy, that I’ll give a notable mention to. It’s that good. Thanks for reading!