A small town complete with a tea room is the setting of this nuanced tale by Saskia Sarginson. This is not the obvious psychological thriller with never-ending surprises that I was expecting, but unsurprisingly given the previous two books I’ve read by this author; The Other Me and The Twins, there is undeniable tension and that sense of needing to know what happens next.
Eleanor Rathmell is the owner of the aforementioned tea room, she also keeps an assortment of animals at her home which she shares with her husband William. All is good in her life, except the secret she has kept all her married life. With few cares in her world, Ellie’s life is turned upside down when she witnesses a horrific car crash, an accident that to her horror she discovers results in William’s death. Worse is to come as she finds evidence that she wasn’t the only one with a secret.
What starts as a fairly standard secrets and lies premise quickly morphs into a fairly issue-led novel about migrants. I was delighted to find although the author had clearly done her research, this not being a ‘shouty’ book from a soapbox, she hadn’t forgotten that we, her readers, want to be entertained. I can’t deny the social commentary on an issue that is far more complex than either side of the debate can sometimes appear to be willing to understand. The migrants featured in The Stranger work on a local farm working for David, a rich farmer with two grown-up children. The local’s mistrust of these migrants could seem at odds with the fundraiser they run for the refugees of the Syrian disaster. When a Romanian moves into Ellie’s garage to help out with jobs on the smallholding strange things begin to happen and there are no shortage of people willing to warn Ellie about the mistake she is making. Ellie has to decide whether the stranger she has welcomed is behind the acts or is someone trying to remove him from the scene.
From that short taster you can see that the plot lines of a widow struggling to comprehend the loss of her husband coupled with the secrets she has uncovered seem at total odds with the local issues of migrants but all of this is neatly tied in, often revolving around the tea room where everyday life continues and Ellie gets her life back onto some sort of track with the help of her assistant Kate. Inevitably there is some romance to sweeten the darker aspects of the storyline which emerge gradually and with great restraint as the book progresses.
The characters are distinct and the dialogue convincing which combined with the measured writing creates a subtle tension when life in the village begins to unravel and Ellie is left unsure who she can trust. The final outcome all the more shocking for the way the author plays the build-up straight down the line.
Although this wasn’t quite the book I was expecting to read I found it to be both an entertaining and thought-provoking read.
I’d like to thank Little Brown for providing me with a copy of The Stranger. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.