It has taken me a year of reading crime fiction, but I have come to realize that I am not a fan of the psychological thriller. My reviews of Megan Abbott’s End of Everything and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train are examples of my distaste for these types of books. The final marker for me in this genre comes with Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories (Orenda Books). I know I am in a minority here with my view of psychological thrillers, but I prefer crime fiction focusing on the people on the fringes of society.
Wesolowski’s premise for Six Stories is splendid — the murder mystery is told mainly through a six-part podcast à la Serial. The novel discusses the disappearance and subsequent death of a 15-year-old boy who was camping in a dangerous wood called Scarclaw Fell. The police ruled the young man’s death accidental, but the podcast narrator’s wants to explore what really happen and maybe even discover if the death was actually murder.
There are brief interludes between the podcast interview chapeters where the owner of the land walks about and tells his story. These peices really show the strength and beauty of Wesolowski’s writing
I stop in the clearing and pour tea into the cup of my flask. Everything is damp and I don’t want to sit down. It’s a cliché I know, but you never really stop and listen to silence, do you? I have started to listen when I’m here, beneath the branches. When I first started coming out, I used to wear headphones, one ear-bud in my right, my left empty.
The woods aren’t silent, not really; if you stand and listen there’s all sorts going on: rustlings and chattering; when it rains, the sound of the leaves is a cacophony of wagging green tongues; in the mornings the indignant back-and-forth clamour of the birds is almost comical.
I’ve not come out into these woods at night. Not for a long time, anyway.
The last time I walked here in darkness was nearly twenty years ago – it was me and Jus and Tomo. That was the night we found him. That boy. It was where the woods begin to thin, where they turn upward towards the bare back of the fell; where the path turns to marsh.
The conversations between the podcast host and the various people attached to the disappearance of the teenager are equally as well written, maybe even better than they should be, but that would be a minor complaint.
One of the tropes of a psychological thriller is the twist. I picked the twist out about a third of the way through the book which probably didn’t help in the enjoyment of the book for me. But if you are a fan of psychological thrillers, Wesolowski has done a bang-up job and presented the story in a new and vibrant way. And as I said earlier, Wesolowski’s writing in Six Stories is brilliant.