What an absolutely fantastic book, the perfect autumnal read in, this a creepy psychological thriller, a standalone book by the very talented Elly Griffiths.
I’m a typical book lover so an author who inserts a book inside a book is onto a good thing. Even better if you do as Elly Griffiths has, and insert a fictional Victorian gothic thriller into a modern crime thriller book.
Clare Cassidy is an English Literature teacher at Talgarth High, a modern building annexed onto Holland House the last residence of the famous author R.M. Holland. Even before Clare went to teach at the school she was a fan of R.M. Holland’s writing but having access to his untouched study has only increased her interest and she’s planning to write a biography about him. In her day job, which includes adult creative writing lessons, she uses his text The Stranger to lead and inspire her classes. Then a close friend, another teacher is found murdered and it seems that the murderer is also a fan of our Victorian writer as a quote from The Stranger is found by the body.
I really can’t stress how brilliantly Elly Griffiths has fused the old and the new in this novel because she doesn’t appear to use any novel techniques; the book open s with the start of the gothic thriller with other excerpts appearing throughout the book, but somehow even with references to ghosts and the strangeness of the supernatural, I was so completely immersed in the book that I pretty much unquestionably believed all that I was told for the duration of the read.
The modern investigation is told from multiple viewpoints which include Clare, the detective DS Harbinder Kaur who is an acerbic quirky character who soon became my favourite of all the characters in the book, Clare’s teenage daughter Georgie also gets a stay and decide whether we also disapprove of her older boyfriend or not. And this is the thing, throughout the book the Victorian melodrama of suspicious deaths and references to a missing daughter brush-up not only against the absolute brutality of murder, but the everyday modernity that is life; what do we think of an Indian gay detective? Does it matter that a grown woman lives with her parents? Should a fifteen year old be dating a twenty-one year old? What does that say about him? Her Parents? and on, and on – some aspects of the book appear deliberately inserted to make the reader question the viewpoint that they are prodding at. To add to the cast of interesting characters we have Henry Hamilton a Cambridge scholar who has some of his letters and we have Harbinder Kaur’s work partner Neil and the aspiring Jean Brodie, Bryony Hughes, believe me a more mixed yet fascinating bunch of people your unlikely to meet.
As for the mystery itself? Well I guess it isn’t the hardest to crack but nor is this a book where it’s obvious from the start – there are plenty of red-herrings to keep you on your toes and don’t forget there are also mysteries to be solved in the past too! There is entertainment to be had on every page from the literary references to bonkers behaviour and ghosts haunting the stairways!
When the wind is howling and the nights are dark you’ll have to go a long way to find such a perfect atmospheric read.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Quercus for sending me an arc, and the author Elly Griffiths for a thoroughly entertaining read, this review is my unbiased thanks to you all.