A secondary school English department in West Sussex is turned upside down by a series of bookish killings.
Clare Cassidy is heading into middle age with just her teenage daughter, her faithful dog, her diary, and her teaching job to occupy her time. The most exciting part of her life may be the biography she hopes to write of R.M. Holland, a writer of gothic tales who once lived in the school where she works. But when one of her colleagues in the English department at Talgarth High is found murdered with a line from "The Stranger," the very same Holland story that has long obsessed Clare, left on a Post-it next to her body, she quickly realizes the murderer must be someone who knows an awful lot about her. This suspicion is confirmed when, the day before Halloween, Clare discovers that someone else has left her a note in her own diary. As the violence escalates, Clare and the police must figure out why the killer seems so fixated on Clare—and what a supernaturally tinged tale more than a hundred years old has to do with the quiet lives of small-town Brits. Griffiths alternates points of view among Clare, her 15-year-old daughter, Georgie, and DS Harbinder Kaur, the queer policewoman in charge of the murder investigation. Thrown into the mix are excerpts from "The Stranger," itself a delicious homage to writers like M.R. James. Though all these ingredients occasionally cause some structural unwieldiness, Griffiths (The Vanishing Box, 2018, etc.) hits a sweet spot for readers who love British mysteries and who are looking for something to satisfy an itch once Broadchurch has been binged and Wilkie Collins reread.
Griffiths, who is known for the Magic Men mysteries and the Ruth Galloway series, has written her first stand-alone novel with immensely pleasurable results.