This is the third book in the author’s Six Stories series and follows on from the first book, titled Six Stories (see my review here: https://bit.ly/2S4vNmm), and its sequel Hydra (which I reviewed here: https://bit.ly/2CyvI0F). Once again we’re with Scott King and his popular Six Stories True Crime podcast. King is not an investigative journalist as he is at pains to explain; rather than looking to solve a case or undo a miscarriage of justice, he examines cases through six different perspectives to ask why the crime occurred and what lay behind it. He tries to do this non-judgementally, allowing his listeners to make up their own minds.
Changeling follows on from the events of the second novel, Hydra, and while it is far from essential to have read the previous novel to enjoy this one, there are certain aspects of King’s behaviour while making this latest podcast that will make more sense having read it. For this instalment he examines the case of seven year old Alfie Marsden, who disappeared from his father’s car in the middle of Wentshire Forest. Sorel Marsden claims that as he was driving the child home one evening, he heard knocking from beneath the vehicle’s bonnet. He pulled over to check and was only looking under the hood for a few minutes. Upon his return, the child had vanished and has never been seen since. Thirty years on the mystery endures and King is on the case.
This is a mystery he has been reluctant to examine however. He is unsure why this so, but whenever listeners have suggested he take it on he has always demurred. But after receiving a letter from someone who mysteriously claims to have some information never heard in public before, he feels strangely compelled to take on the challenge. What follows is six perspectives on the Alfie Marsden disappearance, alongside short excerpts of King’s engagement with the author of the letter.
Wentshire Forest is a place with a strong folkloric tradition. There are stories of elves, strange sights and sounds. Most of all there is talk of the Wentshire Witch, who resides deep in the forest and lures people in. Once they fall prey to her spell these people are never seen again. Is this what happened to Alfie Marsden? Was he lured from his father’s car and deep into the forest by the Wentshire Witch? Finally there’s the Changeling of folklore. Throughout Europe there were tales of human children snatched and taken away by fairies, only for a fairy child to be left in its place. This child would look identical to the lost human child, but would be sickly, afflicted by various disorders, or full of malice. The myth was obviously an attempt by people at the time to explain sickness and developmental disorders in children, but what if these tales contain a germ of truth? Throughout the narrative there is reference to Changelings, particularly when it’s discovered that Alfie’s behaviour changed suddenly during his childhood. As King’s investigation unfolds we find out more about Alfie, his family and his home life. We also learn more about the strange happenings in Wentshire Forest, which has since been bought by the Royal Air Force and closed off to the public.
As with the previous two titles, while there is a resolution to the story and we discover some things for sure, there is much left unresolved and thus for the reader to decide. In particular, what to believe of the supernatural? But equally, there’s a huge twist at the end of this novel, unlike any seen in the previous two titles. I shan’t say more, for I don’t want to divulge any spoilers, but needless to say this is a big development not just in the narrative of this title, but in the character arc of Scott King himself.
It will be interesting to see what direction the author, Matt Wesolowski, takes with the series after this. That’s of course assuming that he writes another Six Stories tale. After the events in Changeling it could make sense to wrap up the series and write something else. Certainly, after the twist at the end, it would be understandable if his protagonist, Scott King, wanted to stop podcasting. But equally he might choose to carry on. I sincerely hope there is another Six Stories novel as the series has been a joy to read.
Changeling is a brilliant read that like its predecessors subtly tackles thorny social issues, which are woven adeptly into a psychological horror chiller. It’s a compelling, at times challenging novel, that had me turning the pages to the very end. I can’t recommend this enough, in fact I can’t recommend the series enough, and look forward to whatever Matt Wesolowski decides to write next.
5 out of 5 stars