I didn’t know, back in 2019 when I read The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths, that it was meant to be the first book in a new series. I was already a big fan of Griffiths’ series featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway, but I didn’t jibe with her other series featuring Max Mephisto, a magician in 1950s Brighton, England. But I enjoy Griffiths’ writing and looked forward to reading this standalone novel.
I was not disappointed by The Stranger Diaries, a sort of gothic mystery centered on Clare Cassidy, a sixth-form college English teacher whose colleague is found murdered. Lying next to the body is an excerpt of a story by Victorian horror writer R.M. Holland, who happens to be Claire’s research specialty. The narrative shifts among several viewpoints, from Clare to her daughter to the detective sergeant investigating the case, punctuated with lengthy excerpts purportedly from Holland’s most famous story. It’s a nicely atmospheric mystery with appealing characters, not least of whom is DS Harbinder Kaur, a gay woman born in England to parents who emigrated from India. I finished the book feeling vague regret that it wasn’t a series, as I would have happily spent more time with either Clare or Harbinder.
Well. As it turns out, it was the first book in a series. While Clare has only a cameo in the second entry, The Postscript Murders (2020) it hardly matters, as DS Kaur is more than capable of carrying the narrative herself, with a little help from some new acquaintances. The plot again centers on the publishing world, as an elderly woman is found dead in her assisted-living community, apparently of natural causes. But a motley crew of people who knew her, including an elderly fellow who lives across the hall, her Polish caregiver, and a former monk who owns a nearby café, suspect foul play, and they take investigating matters into their own clumsy hands. The key to the mystery, they believe, is in the mysteries — that is, the shelves full of mystery novels by various authors, all of whom expressed gratitude in their books to the now-dead Peggy for her unspecified help.
There’s some lively humor to be found as an exasperated DS Kaur tries to wrangle her amateur band of sleuths into not putting themselves in danger or inadvertently spoiling crucial evidence, but there’s also plenty of tension and old-fashioned clue-finding and suspect-grilling before the case wraps up. It’s an altogether satisfying follow-up to The Stranger Diaries. I’m already looking forward to a third entry in the series. Here’s hoping the Brighton Irregulars show up in that one as well.