Winter is the perfect time to cozy up with a mystery novel to while away the desolate winter days. Nothing is as forlorn as an English mystery set in a creepy old house, except one set in a creepy old school, in this case Elly Griffiths’ “The Stranger Diaries” (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2018). Talgarth High was once the home of fictitious Victorian writer of supernatural mysteries, R.M. Holland. Enter school teacher Clare Cassidy, a Holland scholar who teaches his short story, The Stranger, to impressionable adult creative writing students during a school break.
When Clare’s friend and colleague Ella, chair of the English department, is found dead and a slip of paper with a line from The Stranger is discovered by her body, DS Harbinder Kaur and DS Neil Winston interrogate Clare. Later Clare realizes someone is writing in her diary. The inscription in Victorian-styled writing says, “Hallo Clare. You don’t know me.” As evidence mounts, all the suspects, including Clare’s daughter Georgie and even DS Kaur, become unreliable narrators, building to a finely executed and unexpected conclusion. Told through each character’s experiences and thoughts, sections of Clare’s diary and bits of Holland’s story, Griffiths proves herself a master of the British whodunit.
Griffiths is also author of the Dr. Ruth Galloway series about a forensic archaeologist who helps solve murders by identifying bones and remains discovered in historical settings. The twelfth book in the Galloway series, “The Lantern Men,” is set for release in June. You can binge read the whole collection between now and then. It’s a wonder these novels have not been made for television yet, although they have been purchased for production. Enthusiasts of British crime novels cannot wait.
Griffiths, whose real name is Domenica de Rosa, modeled DS Kaur’s mother in the novel after her own British mum, Sheila. Married at 18 and having never cooked, she was taught by her Italian mother-in-law who feared her son, Felice, would starve. Griffiths says, “The result was that mum completely adopted Italian culture and cooked fantastic Italian food. Like DS Kaur’s mother, she insisted on feeding everyone who came through her door.” Here Griffiths shares her Nonna’s Bolognaise recipe, which her family enjoyed every Sunday. Buon appetito to all.
Domenica’s Nonna’s Bolognaise
One onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, rinsed and chopped fine
1 pound ground beef
1/2 green pepper
1 clove garlic
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, preferably plum
1 6-ounce can tomato puree
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 to 1/2 cup red wine
Salt and pepper to taste
Tagliatelle, spaghetti or fettucine
Chop one onion and some celery very finely indeed. Fry with a little olive oil until brown. Add beef mince and cook really well, until brown and spitting. Add half a green pepper and one garlic glove, chopped. Add one tin of tomatoes and a small tin of tomato puree. Add a can’s worth of water and a teaspoon of sugar. A little red wine if you have it. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook at a low heat for at least an hour. Serve with a wide pasta (purists say it should be tagliatelle, not spaghetti). Add a grating of fresh Parmesan. Note: Bolognese comes from the town of Bologna in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. The sauce is most commonly spelled Bolognese, but is also spelled Bolognaise in Britain.
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