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.
I’ve been seeing this book doing the rounds on Twitter recently and was really intrigued by the premise so promptly downloaded it to my Kindle. I then realised that Matt Wesolowski was not only a fellow Geordie but was going to be on one of the panels at the wonderful Newcastle Noir which I was attending at the Lit and Phil so I was really excited to hear him talk about his book and the inspiration behind it.
Six Stories is an exceptional book and it is hard to believe that it is a debut novel. Matt said during his panel that he was inspired by the podcast Serial and realised that a book following the same premise would be both different and challenging to write and, having previously written horror novellas he started writing Six Stories, never expecting to be a crime writer.
It is a testament to Matt’s skill as a writer that he has written a book from multiple viewpoints each with distinctive voices and personality traits; other, more experienced novelists really struggle with this. We learn about each of the characters from their individual interviews and the opinions that the others have of them. Just when we feel we know a character a throwaway comment from somebody else pulls the rug out from under our feet and we’re left re-jigging our mental image of them. The book is like a jigsaw puzzle and we are constantly looking for the elusive key pieces which Matt holds back until just the right moment to open up another part of the puzzle.
I really loved the podcast style, the interviews interspersed with the stream of consciousness of Harry who, along with his friends found the body really ramped up the tension and kept me guessing right until the end. I also adored and was really impressed with the skill it took to write a book that was wholly narrative – our entire perception of the ominous and imposing Scarclaw Fell comes from Scott King’s description and the tales that are told by the interviewees. In lesser hands this may have felt clumsy and shoe-horned in but it was such an easy read and I could really imagine the outward bound centre and the surrounding countryside. There were moments that there were so genuinely terrifying and where the tension was so great that the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.
I also have to give extra kudos to Matt for his use of Geordie language in Six Stories. So many books which are set in Newcastle or have a character from Newcastle use a lot of ‘Why-ayes’ and ‘Ha-ways’ whereas Six Stores hit the perfect note of mid 90s teen vernacular in the North East. I particularly enjoyed his descriptions of the opposing fashions of the time, it brought a wry smile to face to remember the style and language used.
The wonderful Six Stories is published by Orenda Books and can be bought here – if clever, crime and thriller books are your thing then give Six Stories a go, I highly recommend it.