Monday, April 3, 2017


SIX STORIES by Matt Wesolowski (Orenda Books, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

This novel is constructed as a series of podcasts, in which an investigative journalist describes the circumstances around the death of a teenaged boy in an outward-bound centre, interviewing witnesses, suspects and people close to the incident. Their six accounts form the six stories of the title, creating a "chilling and compelling, page-turning thriller that also delves deep into notions of truth, perception and loyalty"

If you're partial to a Hollywood-style one-liner, then you could say SIX STORIES, an excellent debut from Matt Wesolowski, is like Rashomon meets Serial. Kurosawa's classic 1950 film examined a brutal crime from differing perspectives, with several characters each giving different, self-serving, contradictory recountings of the exact same incident. Wesolowski taps into some of those universal themes, while giving them a thoroughly modern spin.

Scott King is an enigmatic investigative journalist, who delves into complicated crimes, interviewing various people involved and presenting their stories through a series of podcasts. He tries to let listeners come to their own conclusions, while pulling back the covers on stories untold or forgotten.

King's latest series of podcasts looks at a tragedy that occurred at Scarclaw Fell two decades ago, when a teenager went missing from a wilderness retreat in Northumberland. Those who were orbiting around the teenager and the Fell - friends, the landowners, the supervising adults - have all been affected long-term in different ways. Although the general public has moved on, King's investigation and discussions with witnesses brings many things to the surface, and as the series of podcasts unfolds, the public interest in what really happened skyrockets. Was it a tragic accident, or something much more sinister? How do mysterious legends and local folklore play into the truth?

I was very impressed by this book. The literary device of dividing the tale into six podcasts - which each switched between interviews with a key person and commentary from King to provide context - could easily have become clunky or overwhelmed the underlying mystery. But Wesolowski shows an adroit storytelling hand, and there's a lovely slow-build of tension as more information is revealed, contradicted, and stacked up throughout the various podcasts. It's an elegantly written novel.

There's a thoroughly modern feel to SIX STORIES, tapping into the current state of the media and the way we consume stories, while also telling a timeless tale. A cold case, a missing teenager, a group of people isolated in the countryside. The wild magnificence of nature, the creepy folktales of things that go bump - and much, much worse than bump - in the night. The different ways we perceive things, remember things, and the lies we might tell others, as well as ourselves.

This would be an impressive crime novel from an established writer, let alone a debutant. As it is, SIX STORIES heralds an exciting new voice that is well worth reading. Give it a go. As for me, I'm really looking forward to seeing what Matt Wesolowski comes up with next.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 180 crime writers, discussed crime writing onstage at arts and literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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