Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski – review

Published by Orenda Books

Publication date 15 March 2017

Source – own copy

“1997. Scarclaw Fell. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an outward bound centre. Verdict? Misadventure. But not everyone is convinced. And the truth of what happened in the beautiful but eerie fell is locked in the memories of the tight-knit group of friends who took that fateful trip, and the flimsy testimony of those living nearby. 2017. Enter elusive investigative journalist Scott King, whose podcast examinations of complicated cases have rivalled the success of Serial, with his concealed identity making him a cult internet figure. In a series of six interviews, King attempts to work out how the dynamics of a group of idle teenagers conspired with the sinister legends surrounding the fell to result in Jeffries’ mysterious death. And who’s to blame… As every interview unveils a new revelation, you’ll be forced to work out for yourself how Tom Jeffries died, and who is telling the truth. A chilling, unpredictable and startling thriller, Six Stories is also a classic murder mystery with a modern twist, and a devastating ending.

WHSmith Fresh Talent Pick for Summer 2017″

1996 and a group of teenagers are at an outward bound centre. Tragedy strikes when one of them, Tom Jeffries, disappears, his body not found until a year later. His death is ruled as misadventure but what really happened the night he disappeared? 2017 and journalist Scott King decides to cover the story as part of his Six Stories podcast, which examines cases from the past. The story follows the six podcasts, interviewing the teenagers who were present when Tom disappeared. Will the truth surrounding the death of Tom Jeffries finally be revealed?

I initially heard the author read the opening to his novel at a book event and was immediately drawn to the story. When I started to read the tale for myself I was soon drawn into a narrative that promised to reveal a dark and compelling tale.

The chilling aspect of this novel was added to by the fact that it was reminiscent of my childhood. Not the murder aspect obviously, but I did attend a residential in a similar setting, that had it’s own tales of hauntings by Peg Leg and the Blue Nun rather than Nanna Wrack. Rather than wandering the abandoned mines we visited Mam Tor. I live close to moors and peaks and could easily imagine the scenery of the novel. And those fond, though very vague and aged memories and familiar images juxtaposed the tale that was unfolding in Six Stories, and made it all the more atmospheric and effective for it.

It has a closed room feel, despite the fact that most of the story revolves around the open fells of the Northumberland countryside, aided by the small cast of characters and the personal way the story presented itself, the reminiscent narrative of the now grown teenagers blurring the lines between fact and imagined memories. The setting itself is a character, demanding attention. The landscape is portrayed as both beautiful and bleak, welcoming and dangerous. It is seen by the teenagers as a chance to escape yet they can never truly be free of the Fell, or of the issues that surround them.

Matt Wesolowski’s narrative is a fresh yet highly effective take on first person characterisation. The use of having chapters as podcasts bring the story bang up to date, tapping into the appeal of Serial and other such series. Each character was unique and well drawn. You could imagine the voices as they narrated. Their story, told through one of the podcasts, gradually layered the narrative, rounding out the events that led to the death of Tom Jeffries. What is interesting is that there are descriptions of the characters as teenagers but little of them as adults. This makes them perpetually young, together with the fact that even in the present day, they are only ever really talking about events from twenty years earlier. There is of course the suspicion that one of them is not telling the truth, all the more convincing in that each one has a slightly different take on what happened. The inevitable differences that come from seeing and experiencing a situation from a different perspective means that the story develops both in a linear and a more rounded way, but is never quite filled out. The reader sees more of the picture than the characters, for we see all sides, yet there are still gaps to be filled, contradictions to be dissected and conclusions to be drawn.

The story tackles a number of different themes. There is the usual difficulties of being a teenager, adapting to new boundaries, peer pressure and just working out how you fit into life. The novel also deals with bullying in its various guises, how people seek out the perceived weaknesses in others and exploit it for their own gain or entertainment. And how those actions can have a lasting impact on the lives of both the bullied and bully.

I had worked out what had happened before the reveal but Matt Wesolowski draws the strands of the story together so well I was just happy to follow the story to it’s conclusion.

Atmospheric, chilling and compellingly written I thoroughly enjoyed reading this debut novel. I look forward to reading more from Matt Wesolowski soon.

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