Six Stories by Matt Wesolowki
US pub date: March 30, 2017
This was mostly an inoffensive read for me – I was intrigued, but only mildly so – but my god, did it go out with a bang. Though it starts out slow, it gradually gathers steam, and then that final, satisfying denouement brings it all together in a way I hadn’t been expecting. Fantastic. But let’s back up.
Six Stories is a novel constructed as a series of podcasts, in which an investigative journalist looks into the mysterious death of 15-year-old Tom Jeffries, which occurred twenty years ago. By interviewing people who knew Tom, podcast host Scott King attempts to paint as clear a picture as possible of the circumstances surrounding his death.
I actually picked up this book right after finishing Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber, and I had to put it down almost immediately because the premises were just too similar. Are podcast murder mysteries the hot new trend? Anyway, so I put down Six Stories, read a different book, and returned, ready to give this style murder mystery another try. And I’m glad I did, because Six Stories blows Are You Sleeping out of the water, in my opinion. Of course, they’re completely different narratives and the novels are formatted rather differently, but while I felt that Are You Sleeping suffered and lost some of its intrigue for each new information reveal, I thought Six Stories only became stronger with each successive chapter.
Part true crime investigation, part character study, and part ghost story, Six Stories balances each of these elements satisfactorily, creating an uneasy atmosphere, and you can’t help but to wonder what’s lurking beneath the surface of each of the six stories that are told. Matt Wesolowski does a fantastic job at playing with themes of perception and subjectivity, as each character’s perspective alters the story in some fundamental way. The dynamics amongst Tom’s friend group are also fascinating. There’s Charlie, the ‘leader,’ wild and reckless; Eva, the second in command; Anyu, the sensible one; and Brian, the outsider. Where does Tom fit in? It’s a compelling and intricate dynamic that Scott King does his best to untangle in his podcast.
Because of its format – interviewing six people about the same series of events – this book does undeniably suffer from an excess of repetition. The interviews really do read like podcast transcripts, so kudos to Wesolowski for nailing that format, but unfortunately, this isn’t always a good thing. While interrupting interviews partway through to fill the reader in on background information and constantly reminding ‘listeners’ of information that was revealed in the last ‘episode’ seems like a realistic approach, it makes for rather tedious reading at times. Fortunately it’s a short novel, coming in at 225 pages, so you won’t get too bored. But I still feel that it could have been edited down to be a bit more concise.
Overall, an unexpectedly satisfying read. Though it’s not the most original story ever told, the modern twist (or gimmick, you could argue) of the podcast breathes new life into this genre. I do wonder if we’re going to start getting an excess of these Serial-inspired podcast murder mystery books, which I worry could become quite tedious – but for one of the pioneering novels in this unique subgenre, Six Stories is original, well-crafted, and after a certain amount of initial exposition, compelling. It takes a while to get going, but if you pick it up, you owe it to yourself to stick with it until the very end.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley, Orenda Books, and Matt Wesolowski.