The Stranger

Written by Kate Riordan
Review by Jasmina Svenne

Everyone living in Penhallow Hall in the summer of 1940 has a secret. There is the autocratic invalid Mrs Fox; her anxious, downtrodden daughter Eleanor, who has not set foot beyond the garden gate for years; and the three newly arrived Land Girls. To middle class, unhappily married Rose, being back in Cornwall brings back vivid memories of her first love and the last carefree summer holiday of her youth. Meanwhile Jane, Mrs Fox’s self-contained granddaughter, seems to be cautiously relishing her return after a long, unexplained exile. But it is charismatic, damaged, self-destructive Diana who acts as a catalyst on the other characters, bringing long-buried secrets to light as the summer heats up and the war looms closer…

This is a delightfully Gothic novel, set in the heart of du Maurier country (one scene is even set in Fowey), where the sea in all its moods is an ever-present character in its own right. The central characters are complex, each a product of her own past, and are deftly sketched in with telling details. I love the fact that many key elements of the plot are left for the reader to infer, and it doesn’t even matter that Eleanor’s secret is relatively easy to guess (though there is a twist to that too). In the style of Ruth Rendell, we know right from the start that a death has occurred, but not who the dead woman is, or whether her death was murder, accident or suicide. Clever plotting and the use of time-shifts mean that the reader is left guessing until almost the very last page.

Highly recommended to anyone who loves Ruth Rendell, Kate Morton or Daphne du Maurier.