The best mystery novels keep adding twist after twist.
The best thrillers ramp up the tension and don’t let us go until we turn the last page.
The best supernatural stories include just a pinch of horror to keep us on the edge of our seats.
Stephen Lloyd Jones’ ‘The String Diaries’ was a perfect fusion of all three.
From the moment this book started, with our protagonist driving on a dark, remote road, trying to escape from a nameless but clearly dangerous pursuer, the bar was set high.
Hannah, along with her husband and her young daughter, is on the run from an enemy that has stalked her family across generations. He has the power to change his appearance at will and to speak in other people’s voices, and he is unswerving in his desire to hunt down Hannah as he has her predecessors.
From a remote farmhouse in Wales to a library in Oxford and a masquerade ball in nineteenth century Hungary, Stephen Lloyd Jones creates a thoroughly convincing story of an ancient hidden race, a spurned son and a dangerous obsession that won’t die.
From the outset, the story speeds along at a breakneck pace, constantly leaving the reader on a cliff-hanger as it skips back and forward between time periods and characters. There was more than one occasion where I desperately wanted to skip ahead just to find out what happened – and a couple of times where I actually did just that!
Jakab – the villain of the piece – is suitably scary. He’s a shadowy figure with no face of his own and no identifiable features to help Hannah pick him out from the crowd. The very idea that he could appear as anyone at any time helped to keep tensions high all the way throughout. As the story progresses, we find out more about what drives him, but he still exudes an air of menace and fear that sets the tone for the whole book.
I also found it really refreshing to read a novel that incorporated elements of the supernatural that isn’t aimed at young adults. Hannah isn’t driven by teenage love or angst or a need to save the world – she’s motivated by a need to keep her husband and daughter safe and a desire to live a life without constantly looking over her shoulder.
Lloyd Jones takes this supernatural element in an entirely new direction, creating a vivid back story grounded in fictional, but entirely believable, folklore and legend. The action scenes at the end didn’t grab me quite as much as the suspense filled scenes at the start, but it was still a great read.