One murder. Six stories. One podcast. Six versions of a memory. One murderer. Six possibilities. British author Matt Wesolowski is known for short horror fiction. Although his first nove lSix Stories possesses some elements of horror, it is more of a psychological thriller meets whodunit murder mystery, with echoes of the paranormal. A modern-day version of Agatha Christie, Six Stories presents an unpredictable plot full of twists and turns that will have you guessing until its very last page.
‘Tom Jeffries had gone missing on a trip to Scarclaw Fell Woodlands Centre with a group of other teenagers and two supervising adults. Unlike today, when such disappearances run riot on social media, Tom Jeffries’ disappearance was largely ignored by the national press…Maybe it was just the times; there was no such thing as social media in the nineties…Or perhaps it was something to do with Jeffries himself.’
Six Stories intertwines two narratives. One is a series of modern-day podcasts in which journalist Scott King interviews characters with some connection to the murder of teenager Tom Jeffries in August 1986. Most of the interviewees are members of The Rangers, an informal group of teenagers and parents who were on a trip with Jeffries when he was killed. Think of The Rangers as Scouts with rebellious teenagers. The second storytelling device, parts of which are written between each of the six character interviews, is a more traditional narrative; the first-person perspective of a man very familiar with Scarclaw Fell, the woodland in which the trip, and the murder, took place.
As the story introduces an impressive cast of characters, I was skeptical about how memorable each would be. I’ve read a lot of murder mysteries, and most focus more on plot than on character. Six Stories, however, manages both. Think of the novel as less of a murder investigation and more of an exploration of authentic group dynamics. The characterisation in the novel was extremely clever; each character was well-rounded and believable. This comes down to the genius podcast concept, which details every interview as a back-and-forth conversation between King and the interviewee. The characters come alive through the slang and pauses written into their interviews. We can hear their hesitations, the sentences that stop and start. Not only do you get a chance to hear each character speak, but you hear them being spoken about. Their character is a product of their own voice and six others’. Depending on loyalties, grudges, prejudices, and crushes, the details about each character change and multiply. You decide who you like based on who you trust.
As the crime itself predominantly revolves around teenagers, teenage issues are explored in an authentic way throughout. Wesolowski details underage drinking and drug use, as well as bullying. All of these topics are handled delicately, but are not sugarcoated. Wesolowski is an author very much in touch with the realities of people and the way they treat others. As a teenager myself, I am impressed with his deeply accurate understanding of how we work.
‘Look, we knew they smoked, we knew they drank – teenagers are the least subtle people in the world. But what were we going to do? If we lost our rags, kicked off with them, they would have still done it, but further away.’
I must admit, the second narrative incorporated in the novel was somewhat distracting. It was not until the end of the story that I realised its significance. Although the first-person perspective forms a key piece in the puzzle Wesolowski constructs, I struggled to make the transition from interview to standard narration and found myself rushing through those sections to get back to the podcast portions.I can only advise you to be patient and assure you that all will eventually become clear.
I can credit Wesolowski, therefore, for successfully tying together the loose ends. This is not one of those crime novels that will leave you feeling underwhelmed. All of the burning questions you had whilst reading will be answered, I promise. With its brilliant balance between plot and character, Six Stories is a page-turner. A fast and gripping read, but an equally authentic study of how people speak, act, and treat another, the novel reminds us that there is always more than one side to every story. Sometimes there are six.
Matt Wesolowski is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the UK. He is an English tutor and leads Cuckoo Young Writers creative writing workshops for young people in association with New Writing North. Matt started his writing career in horror and his short horror fiction has been published in Ethereal Tales magazine,Midnight Movie Creature Feature anthology, 22 More Quick Shivers anthology and many more. His debut novella The Black Land, a horror set on the Northumberland coast, was published in 2013 and a new novella set in the forests of Sweden will be available shortly. Matt was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in 2015. He is currently working on his second crime novel Ashes, which involves black metal and Icelandic sorcery.
Six Stories was published by Orenda Books on 15th March 2017.
To discover more about Orenda Books click here…
Review by Alice Kouzmenko
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