Published: 15th November 2018
Started reading: May 3
Finished reading: May 5
Trigger warnings: Domestic abuse, alcoholism
On Christmas Eve in 1988, seven-year-old Alfie Marsden vanished in the Wentshire Forest Pass, when a burst tyre forced his father, Sorrel, to stop the car. Leaving the car to summon the emergency services, Sorrel returned to find his son gone. No trace of the child, nor his remains, have ever been found. Alfie Marsden was declared officially dead in 1995.
Elusive online journalist, Scott King, whose ‘Six Stories’ podcasts have become an internet sensation, investigates the disappearance, interviewing six witnesses, including Sorrel, his son and his ex-partner, to try to find out what really happened that fateful night.
He takes a journey through the trees of the Wentshire Forest – a place synonymous with strange sightings, and tales of hidden folk who dwell there. He talks to a company that tried and failed to build a development in the forest, and a psychic who claims to know where Alfie is…
I entered this book as a complete newcomer to Six Stories. Indeed, I was not even aware of it until I saw a series of glowing reviews from my fellow book bloggers, who convinced me to pick it up. I am so glad I did, for this was an absolutely superb read that combines excellent and unique storytelling with powerful themes and a continuous sense of atmosphere.
The disappearance of a young child acts as a very common premise in current mystery or crime fiction. However, this book takes a much different approach that makes it stand out completely from the rest, using a range of voices to develop and explore each and every aspect of a compelling story.
What sets this book apart from others the most is unquestionably the format. Six Stories is a podcast, and so the book is therefore told as a sequence of six episodes, examining the disappearance of Alfie Marsden through interviewing the key people associated with the case and uncovering a rather dark family history.
This format is extremely original, and is utilised brilliantly to construct a plot that never really ceases to be gripping. The book is very concise and, helped by my love of a good mystery and interest in cold cases, this enabled me to become fully invested in it from start to finish.
The other main factor was the quality of the writing. Every episode of Six Stories felt so real, so genuine in their portrayal, so I can only imagine how real it would sound on an audiobook! All of the characters that were interviewed were given great depth and an extraordinary level of believability, whether they happened to be innocent or evil. The presenter, Scott King, also acts as a very sound guide, as though he is speaking on behalf of the reader.
Such is the level of realism that emanates from the podcast, the settings and memes that are described give the book an eerie, somewhat haunting atmosphere. The fear spoken of by some of the interviewees, and the regular allusions to paranormal activity added an even more sinister tone.
Before launching into the next episode of Six Stories, each chapter of the book begins with a log from Scott, and these become increasingly intriguing as the story develops. In fact, as a whole I really appreciated how the book gradually builds towards its astonishing, and hugely memorable conclusion.
When I worked out the final twist at the end, my jaw hit the floor! I certainly did not see it coming, but looking back there some lines that I did not read very much into, that eventually turned out to carry immense significance. It was an ending that makes you stop and think back over everything you have read, and I really liked that.
Some unsettling themes begin to emerge as the tale progresses, and are told with a powerful degree of detail and sensitivity. It gives the book an extra layer, and while the main focus is Alfie’s disappearance, it also acts as a profound and occasionally tragic character study that is written very astutely.
Overall, this is a captivating and brilliantly constructed book that provides a lot more than just a fascinating mystery. I loved the format and the quality of the writing, while the ending had the desired effect. It works very well as a standalone, but looking to the future, Six Stories can count me as its newest subscriber!
Matt Wesolowski is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the UK. He is an English tutor for young people in care and leads Cuckoo Young Writers creative writing workshops in association with New Writing North.
Wesolowski started his writing career in horror and was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at ‘Bloody Scotland’; Crime Writing Festival 2015. His subsequent debut crime novel ‘Six Stories’ was published by Orenda Books in the spring of 2016 with follow-up ‘Hydra’ published in the winter of 2017.
I am left asking myself how I had never heard of Six Stories before this third book in the series was released. It is simply excellent. One of the shortest books I have read in 2019, but certainly one of the best!
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐