It is my turn on the blog tour for this latest instalment of Matt Wesolowski’s frankly outstanding Six Stories series. Those of you who follow my blog will likely have seen me eulogise about the previous two books on several occasions, so I was beyond excited to receive an invite for this tour.
Such is the nature of Six Stories, its concept, and the way it is written, I knew that it would be brilliant even before I picked it up. Very few authors could offer such a guarantee. Thank you very much to Anne Cater for my place on the tour, and to Orenda Books for the free electronic copy.
Published: 18th December 2020
When pop megastar Zach Crystal dies in a fire at his remote mansion, his mysterious demise rips open the bitter divide between those who adored his music and his endless charity work, and those who viewed him as a despicable predator, who manipulated and abused young and vulnerable girls.
Online journalist Scott King, whose ‘Six Stories’ podcasts have become an internet sensation, investigates the accusations of sexual abuse and murder that were levelled at Crystal before he died.
But as Scott begins to ask questions and rakes over old graves, some startling inconsistencies emerge: Was the fire at Crystal’s remote home really an accident? Whose remains – still unidentified – were found in the ashes? Why was he never officially charged?
In podcasting terms, this is another brilliant series of Six Stories, an astonishingly compelling story that examines the very fabric of certain societal issues while unravelling an infinitely dark and fascinating mystery. Full of the usual atmosphere, range of authentic perspectives, and murmurings of the supposedly paranormal, it is both a thrilling work of fiction and a profound portrayal of the dark side of fame.
The writing is immersive and contains voluminous depth throughout, though it is the kind of book that cannot be fully appreciated until the end once all the voices have been heard and the multitude of questions that have arisen along the way are gradually answered. The way this is executed elevates it from an highly impressive read into an exceptional one, with the eventual revelation of disturbing truths and unexpected twists.
This latest case for online investigative journalist Scott King is that of the deceased pop star Zach Crystal, one of the biggest names in showbusiness who was killed in a fire at his mansion in the Scottish Highlands just a matter of weeks after announcing a musical comeback. He had only recently re-emerged after going missing for over a year, and his whereabouts during that time have remained unknown.
In the time before and after his death, Crystal had been the subject of a number of sexual abuse allegations. He strongly denied the claims while many of his devoted fans, who revered him as something akin to a god-like figure, aggressively protested his innocence, however his actions provided plenty of cause for suspicion.
For several years he had invited teenage girls to his home, and frequently spent time with them alone and unsupervised. In addition, two girls were found dead in the nearby woods shortly after the release of his final album. As Scott speaks to six people who had connections with Zach Crystal at various points in their lives, he finds that the star was even more of an enigma than he originally seemed.
The subject matter ensures that this is often a dark and unsettling read, but also powerful and deeply thought-provoking. It explores in great detail how someone of such immense standing can fall from grace, appalling acts can go unpunished or disputed, and the many lives that are terminally affected in the process. Zach Crystal may be a fictional character, but it is hard not to liken his story to that of real-life celebrities or public figures whose past crimes have come to light in recent years.
As a result, the book carries a huge amount of relevance, also touching upon concepts such as victim blaming, cancel culture, and how different groups of people are portrayed by the media. There are occasional references to the #metoo movement that fit with the narrative, which represents, over the course of testimonies from six different interviewees, an exceedingly broad and eloquent social commentary.
The plot is very well crafted, beginning with a background of the case and hearing from those who knew Zach Crystal on the outside, before gaining increasingly clear insights that hint more closely towards the truth. I had a fun time guessing who would be the guest for each new episode and as ever they were all super interesting, with the best saved until last.
In between each section of the book, there are extracts from a television interview Zach Crystal conducted shortly before his death. This is written in the form of a transcript and sheds light not only how unusual a personality he is, but also his untouchable status. This whole aspect does seem quite curious at first for more reasons than one, but it all makes sense in the end with a twist I did not see coming.
As fictional podcast hosts go, you can hardly get any better than Scott King. He sets the scene perfectly and asks all the right questions, getting to the heart of all his interviewees’ moral dilemmas and sometimes sharing his own relationship with the case. Every little detail is of the utmost importance and all six people he spoke to were well developed, bringing something new to the story.
The only character I had a slight problem with was Ruby Rendall, who came across as more of an awestruck fangirl than a primetime talk show presenter. As for Zach Crystal himself, the descriptions of him gave me a lot of uncomfortable vibes as you would expect, but the author does a fabulous job of making him seem elusive despite most of his flaws being very evident.
A lot of the story focused on events at Zach Crystal’s home and the surrounding acres of woodland, which made for a frightful setting. This was emphasised by talk of the Frithghast, a spectral creature that supposedly appears when something bad is about to happen, creating a threatening, oppressive atmosphere as well as adding an extra layer to the mystery.
The writing and storytelling are unsurprisingly excellent and there is such a degree of realism in the dialogue and the facts of the case that no matter how many instalments of Six Stories there are, you cannot fail to admire it. The ending was a particular highlight and the twist set off a few minor explosions in my brain before everything fell into place.
Overall, this is a book that delivers the goods in pretty much every respect, but where it really excels is in terms of the social commentary and topical elements. It is impactful and wide-ranging with a dark atmosphere, which keeps you turning the pages at a never-ending rate. This is Six Stories, and once again, it does not disappoint.
One of the central topics of this book is that of child sexual abuse, and as such there are frequent references. There are no graphic descriptions, but it is still unsettling to read, so do consider this if it may be potentially triggering.
The book also contains drug references, descriptions of sexual harassment, and injury detail.
A book which met all of my expectations. It was terrific all the way through, but the ending and the final episode as a whole made it my first five-star read of the year!
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
*I received a free electronic copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Check out all the reviews on the blog tour!