I wish to inspire readers, teachers, and book clubs to bake along with their reading and promote discussion about the books we've enjoyed.
Brief Book Synopsis
Clare Cassidy is a teacher at the English upper level school that her daughter, Georgia, attends. They live on the outskirts of their small town, near an abandoned factory with their dog, Herbert. Clare spends her free time researching for a biography about the mysterious R. M. Holland, who once lived in the oldest building, where she teaches some of her classes. His fictional story The Stranger is now beginning to coincide with the murder of a fellow teacher and friend of Clare’s. Then, someone else begins writing in her personal diary, and she looks suspiciously connected to all the strange, frightening things that are happening.
DS Harbinder Kaur is investigating the murder case with her partner, Neil. She is highly suspicious of everyone surrounding it. Kaur attended the same school herself many years ago, when she thinks she might have encountered the spirit of Holland’s late wife, who died there and is said to roam the staircase. She also knows someone who works at the school, who could give her insight into finding the killer.
The Stranger Diaries is a fast-paced mystery that is difficult to put down, even when weaving among the three narratives of Clare, Harbinder, and Georgia. Each character gives a unique perspective into the case, and unveils details the others don’t know, driving the reader to solve it faster than any of them could alone. The mysterious stories by the fictional author R.M. Holland also add a creepy, almost supernatural element to this novel that increase the suspense and curiosity—what did happen to Holland’s wife, and did he have a daughter? And how are they connected to Clare and the murder? This book will keep you riveted til the end.
Who Will Like This Book?
This book is perfect for readers who love:
- murder mysteries,
- creepy short stories,
- school mysteries,
- English mysteries,
- contemporary mysteries, and
- The loathly lady is a “a common character in Gothic ghost stories” who is typically “a beautiful woman who becomes a hideous hag, or vice versa.” To whom was Clare a detectable or loathly lady? Were there any other loathly ladies in this story? Do you remember famous ones from any other novels?
- How was Clare obsessed with keeping a diary? To what did it lead? Was she therefore to blame?
- “The killer got up close...that implies passion was involved.” How did passion play a role? How did that fact help the detectives find the killer and rule out it being a stranger (remember “distanciation”)?
- Did Harbinder “have it in” for Clare? What makes you think so?
- How did Harbinder end up living at home? What were the pros and cons of it, especially regarding the case and an old boyfriend?
- In the Gothic tradition, “things happen in threes.” Did any in the story The Stranger, or in this novel? If you’ve read any of the Gothic novels mentioned (or any that weren’t) can you think of any other examples of threes?
- Though she isn’t as big a readers as Clare, why did she still hate the new library at the school full of “ plastic sofas and carousels and paperbacks in protective covers”? What type of library do you think she preferred? What’s your preference?
- What did Gary and Harbinder see at the school?
- Why did Clare write in a diary? What messages were left for her in it?
- What role did Miss Hughes play in Georgia and Patrick’s lives?
- Why was Simon attacked?
- Who was Mariana?
When Harbinder was staying watch at Clare’s house while she was away, she made herself a cup of tea that “tasted like perfume. Orange and bergamot.” Also, these are common scents for potpourri, and could have been what it was scented in the story in Clare’s house. Clare also served Harbinder biscuits with the tea every time the detective stopped by to update her on the case. If you don’t prefer the flavor of bergamot, you can leave it out, or for a less strong flavor, brew a bit of Earl Grey or Lady Grey tea concentrate (instructions below) which both contain bergamot in a less powerful form. Lady Grey tea also has citrus notes which should pair well with these tea biscuits/cookies.
Orange Bergamot Tea Biscuits
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large orange, zested
- 1 1/2 tablespoons juice from the orange
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 tablespoons Earl Grey or Lady Grey tea concentrate, (optional) directions below
To make the Earl Grey or Lady Grey tea concentrate, make a cup of one of the above-mentioned teas using half the recommended amount of boiling water (four oz instead of eight) and two tea bags. Steep for five minutes. Carefully squeeze the tea bags between two spoons (being careful to avoid your fingers, as the liquid will be hot). Measure out the desired liquid in the recipe. The rest can be added to 16 oz of hot or iced water to make a drink to go with the biscuits.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine orange zest, sugar, and the softened butter on medium speed for one minute. Drop the mixer to low and slowly add half the flour plus the baking powder, followed by the orange juice and Earl Grey or Lady Grey tea. Continue with the rest of the flour until it begins to look like a crumbly mixture. Then turn up the speed back to medium and continue to mix for another two minutes, until it forms a dough.
- Roll out onto a floured surface about 1/4 inch thick (see pictures). Cut into circles or other desired shapes, and place on baking sheets, spaced at least a half-inch apart. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes, and up to two days before baking.
- Preheat your oven to 350° F. Sprinkle cookies with extra sugar (or crunchy turbinado sugar or sugar in the raw) if desired, and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges begin to turn golden-brown. Makes about 20 cookies.
Orange Bergamot Tea Biscuits
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Other books by Elly Griffiths include the Ruth Galloway Mysteries such as The Crossing Places (#1), The Stone Circle, The Dark Angel, The Woman in Blue, and many more. Her Magic Men Mysteries series starts with The Vanishing Box. Her Stephens and Mephisto Mysteries start with The Zig Zag Girl.
The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman also features a killer obsessed with a teacher at a school, this one in the cold New York Adirondacks.
Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman also has a single mother to a teenager daughter teaching at a semi-isolated small school, where tragedy and deaths occur, one by one, and a mystery unravels.
The fictional story The True History of the Mud Man which opens and envelops the characters of The Distant Hours by Kate Morton is similar to that of R.M. Holland’s fictional The Stranger, in that is also Gothic, tragic, and frighteningly gripping.
Salt Lane (DS Alexandra Cupidi #1) by William Shaw is another murder mystery about DS Alexandra Cupidi who has left London for the coast and must now unravel the murders of those without names found in the water.
The Lost (Paula McGuire #1) by Claire McGowan is also similar to this book; it is about missing teenagers, a town’s dark past, and an investigation by a forensic psychologist in the hometown she refused to return to.
Hydra (Six Stories #2) by Matt Wesolowski is about a family murder in a small English town and an investigative journalist who wants to solve the why of what happened that night.
“‘If you’ll permit me,’ said the Stranger, ‘I’d like to tell you a story. After all, it’s a long journey and, by the look of those skies, we’re not going to be leaving this carriage for some time...Well, this story actually happened. Those are the best kind, don’t you think?’”
“The ceremony was simple and took place at midnight. The three initiates were required to go to a ruined house just outside the college grounds. In turn, we would be blindfolded and given a candle. We had to walk to the house, climb the stairs and light our candle in the window of the first floor landing. Then we had to shout, as loudly as we could, ‘Hell is empty!’”
“A man may see how the world goes with no eyes.”
“Write every day. That’s what I tell my students.”
“Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.”
“There’s something rather strange and obsessive about keeping a diary.”
“The library they have now is horrible; all plastic sofas and carousels and paperbacks in protective covers. The old library had history, you could feel it seeping through the walls…”
“I always thought it [creative writing] seemed a weird thing to teach. Either you can write or you can’t.”
“It doesn’t work like that in real life, Things aren’t neat. You can drive yourself mad looking for patterns.”
“Nothing’s as bad if you put it in writing. It helps you to take control, order things...It’s a form of therapy, I suppose.”
“Libraries are wonderful places. You can just sit there with a book for hours and nobody bothers you.”
© 2019 Amanda Lorenzo
Naude Lorenzo on March 28, 2019:
We love this book and this recipe is awesome, we are becoming almost bakers, thanks Amanda