Title: Six Stories
Author: Matt Wesolowski
Genre: Fiction, mystery, crime
Where I got the book: I purchased this book through Book Depository.
My rating: ★★★★☆
Summary: Scarclaw Fell, 1997. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an Outward Bound center, but the discovery is eventually written off as misadventure. Twenty years later, the elusive investigate journalist Scott King conducts a series of interviews for his podcast Serial, in which he digs deeper into what happened on Scarclaw Fell back then, as well as the sinister legends surrounding the place. With each new interview he unveils a new revelation about how Tom Jeffries really died.
“They say, if you don’t look at a monster it grows. One minute there’s a single eye staring at you, and before you know it, there are twenty-one. Even in the daylight, there’s darkness on Scarclaw. I stand here in the daylight and look at the darkness.”
– Six Stories, Matt Wesolowski
I went into this book kind of expecting the unexpected. I had no idea how a book written as a podcast was going to work, if it would work at all. The only other book I’ve read which includes elements of this is “Welcome to Night Vale“, but that book is so entirely different it can hardly compare. I thought the format sounded unique for a book, though maybe not immediately engaging. It just depends so much on pacing and writing style. It’s also a rather short book, almost too short to fit a crime in at first glance, so I have to admit I did have my doubts – but oh boy, did this book surprise me.
“Six Stories” alternates between a 2017 narrator and several podcast episodes which look back on what happened twenty years ago. These episodes are structured around a specific narrator as well as interviews. The setting is mainly the same, Scarclaw Fell, which we get to know both in the past and in the present. This is a book that starts out by taking its time. It creates a build-up using landscape descriptions, interviews, character backgrounds, different viewpoints, and the crime itself, but with each new chapter it slowly picks up the pace and I guarantee you that you’ll eventually find the book very hard to put down. Wesolowski’s writing is engaging and really pulls you in, and the change in writing style as we switch between the different narrators/chapters is seamless. Every character is also given their own personality and voice, which is impressive considering how they’re mainly presented through interviews and are somewhat removed from the reader. We still get into their heads and that’s much thanks to how well-structured and well-written the podcast-chapters actually are.
This book reads as a true crime documentary with an in-depth, almost sociological, study of both characters and group dynamics. Naturally, it also includes elements of suspense and even mystery, in the form of legends and ghost stories. Add to this a landscape that is vast, cold, rainy, and windy, with Scarclaw being almost a character in its own right, and you get an atmosphere that is as eerie as it is magical. This all comes together into a crime fiction that is cohesive, intriguing, and well thought-out. There aren’t really any plot holes that I could find, and if there were I didn’t notice because I was too busy trying to figure out the truth. Without spoiling anything, I have to say that I really did not see that ending coming at all, it completely took me by surprise and definitely made up for the slow pace.
Since the book is partly written in a podcast format it does become somewhat repetitive. Each new podcast chapter is introduced and ended in pretty much the same way and the characters are of course interviewed about the same thing. Inevitably, pieces of information are repeated many times and much of the same questions are asked. I found this to be both helpful and tiresome, to be honest. It definitely made sure I didn’t forget anything, but it also makes for a bit of tedious reading to have the same information relayed to you over and over. I understand why each podcast chapter would have the same type of introduction and that it would sum up what happened in the previous chapter (or episode), as this is how it would be done if it really was a weekly series. I appreciate how realistic that is and the writing is overall great, but like I said, to read it does get repetitive. If it was ten stories instead of six I think I’d easily get bored with it, so the length of the book is fortunately reasonable. Because there are so many interviews included, you also have to love reading dialogue, or at least not mind it. I personally found the dialogue to be realistic and interesting, and there are of course several breaks of narration, but you can’t get around the fact that it also reads like a transcript. If you have difficulties picturing yourself as a “listener” rather than a reader then I can see how this might not be to your liking.
Overall though, I really enjoyed this book! This is a unique and refreshing take on the crime genre, and even though the crime itself and the added elements aren’t very original, the format definitely is and Wesolowski pulls it off admirably. That’s probably one of my favorite things about this book as a whole: that we have something we’ve undoubtedly read before but it’s still a completely new reading experience. It’s the kind of book that will slowly reel you in and by the time it has you hooked you just know you’ll have to stick with it to the end. I definitely recommend this book for fans of the crime genre or for those who are just looking for a bit of a different read.