This is one of the best novels I’ve read this year, perhaps in memory. There, I’ve said it. Six Stories really is something special.
We all know of the podcast phenomenon. There’s Serial, obviously. More recently, there’s been Untold, the Peter Jukes telling of the still-unsolved Daniel Morgan murder. Six Stories takes as its format a fictional true crime podcast. Six Stories (where the book gets its title, obviously) is a fictional podcast that looks at a case from six different perspectives. If you’re thinking that this is a great idea for a podcast you’re not alone, reading the novel I thought the author had a good idea for a format should he ever want to step away from novel writing. Not that he should on the strength of this debut, mind.
So back to the novel. The narrator of the Six Stories blog is Scott King, a former journalist. The focus of the podcast is the 1997 death of a teenager, Tom Jeffries, on Scarclaw Fell, a remote fictional mountainside and woodland area in Northumberland. Tom disappeared, his partially decomposed body found a year later. Ruled at the time as an accidental death, the rumours that there was something else at play have never really gone away. Those caught up in the incident, particularly the adults, were subjected to tabloid abuse and trial by media. Scott King interviews the other teenagers, the adults who were supervising the trip (they were staying in a lodge, doing various outdoor activities) and the son of the aristocratic landowner who owns Scarclaw Fell, who along with some friends, discovered Tom Jefferies’ body.
The narrative is almost entirely told through the interviews conducted with the various participants for the Six Stories podcast, occasional sections told from the perspective of Henry Ramsey, the landowner’s son. The structure is an effective one and allows the author to keep the reader guessing while ratcheting up the tension. It’s a little like the device of the unreliable narrator, though here all the witnesses are unreliable in that we don’t know who to believe, what agendas they might have, what they may or may not have to hide. Added to the mystery of what happened to Tom Jeffries, is a potential supernatural element. Like many unclaimed wildernesses, Scarclaw Fell has been the focus of stories of monsters or ghouls throughout history and some of the teenagers’ report having seen something on the moorland. Was Tom Jeffries, who we quickly learn to have been a troubled youth who rubbed people up the wrong way, murdered by another’s hand? Was he the victim of whatever stalks Scarclaw Fell? Does this explain the mystery of why his body remained missing for a year?
This is a fantastic debut, incredibly assured. On the strength of Six Stories, Matt Wesolowski is someone who's work, like the beast of Scarclaw Fell, I will hungrily devour in the future.
5 out of 5 stars