When Hannah Wilde arrives at the remote farmhouse in Wales, with her young daughter, Leah and seriously injured husband, Nate, in tow, all she knows is that she must protect them at all costs. As she attempts to nurse Nate back to health, with help from a local man (who may be more than what he seems), the terrifying story of how Hannah got to this point unfolds, resulting in an interweaving of historical suspense and present day terror.
The narrative goes back and forth between the 70s, when Hannah’s father, Charles, meets her mother Nicole, who holds dear a series of diaries tied with string, and also the 1800s . Nicole eventually tells Charles a fantastical story involving a man that can change shape and a legacy of murder, and even genocide, that began in the 1800s.
The String Diaries is a clever mash up of historical puzzle mystery and modern day thriller with a bit of a stalker twist, and for a long time, the man at the center of the puzzle remained somewhat elusive. We get bits of his childhood, and his inability to fit in with the rest of his kind, but I can’t help but wish that it was fleshed out a bit more, along with the group that have taken it upon themselves to oversee, and sometimes eliminate, these supernaturally talented people (and no, they’re not vampires, although they are fairly long lived.)
While I enjoyed the story of Charles and Nicole’s fraught courtship, and how Hannah came to be the strong wife and mother that she is now, the scenes at the farmhouse, with her husband gravely wounded, and a young child to protect, were some of the most terrifying, because at first, it was unclear as to what the menace was, and once it was revealed, it became even more obvious why Hannah felt like she must be diligent every single minute. Imagine never knowing who you can trust, even if it’s someone you think you know. If it seems like I’m being deliberately vague, it’s because I am, since revealing the nature of the supernatural menace would destroy quite a bit of the chilling fun of this novel. This is a debut novel, and it’s not without its flaws, but the author is great at stretching out tension to its breaking point, and the present day scenes reminded me very much of classic Koontz, which for me is a good thing. If you enjoy a bit of historical flavor to your thrillers, as well as a supernatural twist, I think you’ll enjoy this fairly ambitious debut. Stephen Lloyd Jones is most definitely a writer to watch.