Published: 20th December 2019
The fourth book in the Six Stories series. In the wake of the ‘Beast from the East’ cold snap that ravaged the UK in 2018, a grisly discovery was made in a ruin on the Northumbrian coast. Twenty-four-year-old vlogger, Elizabeth Barton, had been barricaded inside what locals refer to as ‘The Vampire Tower’, where she was later found frozen to death.
Three young men, part of an alleged ‘cult’, were convicted of this terrible crime, which they described as a ‘prank gone wrong’. However, in the small town of Ergarth, questions have been raised about the nature of Elizabeth Barton’s death and whether the three convicted youths were even responsible.
Elusive online journalist Scott King speaks to six witnesses – people who knew both the victim and the three killers – to peer beneath the surface of the case. He uncovers whispers of a shocking online craze that held the young of Ergarth in its thrall and drove them to escalate a series of pranks in the name of internet fame. He hears of an abattoir on the edge of town, which held more than simple slaughter behind its walls, the tragic and chilling legend of the ‘Ergarth Vampire’…
The Six Stories series provides the ideal combination of an ingenious concept and excellent, thoughtful writing. This latest instalment uses an array of clever and interesting ideas to tell a dark and fascinating story that explores numerous aspects of modern life, as well as containing a multi-layered mystery that is full of complexity and underlying menace.
It was impossible to not be wholly immersed in this book right from the very beginning, such is the addictive nature of the plot and the mode of storytelling. The writing is so engaging, and the level of detail is simply extraordinary, allowing it to develop a tangible and realistic feel. This acts as the perfect compliment to the mystery, which is brilliantly crafted and complete with in-depth character study, all taking place within a setting that exudes atmosphere.
Several months on from the breathtaking revelations that emerged from the previous series of the Six Stories podcast, Scott King returns with a new case, this time the events surrounding the death of vlogger and local celebrity Elizabeth Barton in the north-east town of Ergarth. There, he speaks to various people connected to the case, and those involved.
Elizabeth died in gruesome circumstances while taking part in the Dead in Six Days challenge, an online event where she is apparently set a series of tasks to complete by an unknown entity. Three men, all of whom went to the same school as Elizabeth, were convicted of her murder and it seemed to be an open and shut case, but two years on a cryptic message appears, daubed on her parents’ house. ‘Who locked Elizabeth in the tower?’.
When Scott arrives to investigate, he discovers an impoverished town with an eerie landscape and learns about the legend of the Ergarth vampire, the so-called Beast From The East. The men held responsible for Elizabeth’s death were said to be part of a cult, obsessed with the local myth and taking part in suspect activities. However, questions are raised over their potential motives, and even their guilt.
The plot was entirely compelling at every turn. Every single element of the plot was highlighted with immense depth, and it is the podcast format which truly facilitates that. This format is unique and once again it is faultlessly executed, bringing with it a permanent sense of intrigue that is especially profound if you are interested in crime and the examination of cold cases.
I really loved some of the ideas that went into this book, particularly the focus on vampires and the way it offered a deep and unflattering look at some of the traits of modern society. It leads the case to an interesting outcome that leaves several questions for the reader to contemplate. I was unsure about the way things were resolved in the end, but the mystery is approached from all angles, and is told from a wonderful range of perspectives.
Each section of the book begins with a transcript from one of Elizabeth’s videos, posted in the days leading up to her death. She is full of life, portraying herself as kind and charitable; a real beacon of positivity for the residents of Ergarth. As the Dead in Six Days challenge progresses, you see her gain more subscribers, and rack up an impressive number of views.
Then the next episode of the podcast begins, and Scott King is such a perfect guide. It is his narration that really sets the scene and forms the atmosphere and tension, making it feel as though you are experiencing the case completely through his eyes. I enjoy reading his thoughts on the case as it moves on, and he also has a very good habit of asking the right questions at the right time.
Along the way, the issues that explored in the case are extremely wide-ranging. There is a lot of emphasis placed on Elizabeth’s videos, the use of social media and the lengths that some people can go to be accepted by others, while there is also a very powerful and authentic representation of how troubled young adults fare after leaving school.
All of the characters that are interviewed during the book are very well developed and enhance the level of context surrounding the case. I was particularly drawn to the testimonies of Elizabeth’s parents, and Amirah Choudhury, to the extent that I was hanging on every word. Then we have Jason, who has an interesting agenda to say the least.
Indeed, Jason was the only character who I struggled to grasp. He is certainly unreliable, but for me there was just something about him that did not quite ring true. I also wish the ending brought more answers; it seemed like uncovering the motives of those involved in the case was prioritised a little too much instead of solving the actual mystery surrounding it.
Otherwise, this is masterful storytelling. Almost everything about the book, from the characters and their dialogue to the issues that are explored, feels so incredibly real, as if you are reading from an actual true crime podcast. That is possibly the thing that makes Six Stories stand out the most, and you cannot help but feel just slightly in awe of the writing.
Overall, this is a fantastic ride through a complex, multi-faceted case. It may lack the astonishing final twist of the previous book, but it is still an amazing read for so many reasons. From vampires to vloggers, the writing is very much on point and although I had a couple of minor issues, there was never a dull moment to be found.
There are some moments in this book to be mindful of. The circumstances of Elizabeth’s death are described at various intervals and it is quite gruesome, with the setting making it even darker.
The other main trigger is animal cruelty, as the book makes frequent references to an abattoir. It only appears in one short section, but some of the detail makes for slightly uncomfortable reading. There are also some drug references.
A really excellent book. I thought long and hard about my rating. I considered awarding five stars, but there were just a couple of things that I felt could have been just a tiny bit better, particularly at the end. In any case, I loved it.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5