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.
Six Stories has a unique premise although the basis for the murder mystery may seem familiar. A group of teenagers staying in a remote outward bound centre in a bleak and unforgiving landscape is the stuff of horror movies. Matt Wesolowski, in his debut novel, has taken this oft repeated plot though and given it a fresh and modern spin. What happened to Tom Jeffries is gradually revealed to the reader through a series of podcasts. If I had any sort of impulse control I may have tried reading one chapter, or podcast daily to emulate the experience of viewing a serialised podcast. I am not that person however, and read the entire book in less than two days! Each podcast is an interview conducted by investigative journalist, Scott King, with various people who were somehow involved in the events leading to the discovery of Tom Jeffries' body, a year after his disappearance. By only allowing us to hear from one point of view at a time we are reminded that there is not always one simple truth and as each person tells of their own memories and chooses what to reveal or conceal we are only drip-fed the whole story. For me there was a definite sense of detachment about Six Stories, although I could empathise with certain aspects - bullying is a constant theme in the books for instance. However, rather than this being a drawback I enjoyed the experience of not feeling so emotionally involved in the lives of the characters and instead being able to just experience the unfolding of the mystery with each revelation. Scarclaw Fell is simultaneously immediately familiar to anyone who has ever been on an outward bound school trip to an isolated location and ominously mysterious. Although mostly set outside there is a constant claustrophobic feeling, this is an environment that seems to want to consume the unwary and the stories of the Belkeld Beast and Nanna Wrack add a creeping sense of foreboding and terror to the proceedings.
I don't want to give anything away about the truth of what happened to Tom Jeffries suffice to say that despite having some of my suspicions proved correct I was still shocked by certain revelations. Six Stories may be about a murder but it is about the commonplace, the universal fears, worries and ordeals that teenagers on the brink of adulthood face. However, it also has an eerie, almost otherworldly sense to it. Despite being about a twenty year old case there is still a creeping feeling of danger and trepidation. To combine the ordinary and the almost mythological and to do so in such a unique style is a real testament to the skill and craft of the author. Six Stories is one of the most memorable books I've read in a long time and I think Matt Wesolowski will be a name to look out for.
Many thanks to Orenda Books for my advance copy in return for this review. Six Stories is available to buy now.