Today I am delighted to share my thoughts on the latest book in the Six Stories series by Matt Wesolowski, Demon. My thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to join the tour and to publisher Orenda Books who provided an early copy for review. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
In 1995, the picture-perfect village of Ussalthwaite was the site of one of the most heinous crimes imaginable, in a case that shocked the world.
Twelve-year-old Sidney Parsons was savagely murdered by two boys his own age. No reason was ever given for this terrible crime, and the ‘Demonic Duo’ who killed him were imprisoned until their release in 2002, when they were given new identities and lifetime anonymity.
Elusive online journalist Scott King investigates the lead-up and aftermath of the killing, uncovering dark stories of demonic possession, and encountering a village torn apart by this unspeakable act.
And, as episodes of his Six Stories podcast begin to air, and King himself becomes a target of media scrutiny and the public’s ire, it becomes clear that whatever drove those two boys to kill is still there, lurking, and the campaign of horror has just begun…
I have loved the Six Stories series since the beginning. Not just the originality of the narrative, each story presented as a series of six podcasts in which an old mystery is examined and dissected through interviews with the people most closely involved, but the fact that it is a blend of mystery and near horror, a very twisted and complex set of stories that take us well beyond the everyday. Demon is no exception. Whilst the story may seem very familiar, that ripped from the headlines feel to it, there is so much about this mystery which calls into question everything you think you know and most definitely challenges the prejudices and assumptions of the people involved in this most heinous of cases.
This is possibly the book which brings readers the closest to reality of all of the books so far. Not in as much as the story is devoid of the otherworldliness which has made this series so special. More that the case itself – children turned murderers – is so scarily reminiscent of one of the most horrific cases in British history that is is difficult not to draw comparisons. I can still remember the headlines from the James Bulger case like it was yesterday, and whilst the victim in Matt Wesolowski’s latest thriller may have been older, there is no denying the fact that this case, the debate over the psychology of what might drive a child to become a killer, will most definitely resonate. So, indeed, do all the internal battles and judgements I found myself making as I read the book, guessing and second guessing the motives and actions of the people caught up in this story.
Now this is no simple case of art imitating life. Not by a long chalk. All of the hallmark Six Stories quirks are here. The sense of there being something far more than just delinquency behind what comes to pass. This is a very complex and sometimes hard to read story, perhaps because you do get caught up in the very human aspects of the case. Maybe because of the victimology, maybe because the perpetrators lives were not as straightforward and perfect as those around them, but it was with a mixture of emotions that I made my way through the story. Sometimes I felt true empathy for the perpetrators as much as the victim, sometimes just pure animosity that anyone could take a life in such a horrific and unjustified way.
And yet, this is where Matt Wesolowski excels. He challenges us to set aside our prejudices for one moment, forces us to see beyond the obvious to the hidden story, whilst never once passing judgment of his own. Using podcaster Scott King as his mouthpiece, he is effectively manipulating our emotions to brilliant effect, Slowly uncovering various pieces of evidence never in the public sphere during the course of the original investigation. Ones which prove to be pivotal in terms of our understanding and in coming to terms with what we are reading. This book is as much a journey of discovery for King as it is for us, but one that leaves us reeling by the closing chapters.
As always, this book is rich in atmosphere and tension. There is that constant underlying sense of something more … potent, maybe spectral, directing the action. You will likely find yourself pondering the whole nature versus nurture debate – who wouldn’t – but the author has made sure that this story is far from that simple. And as for the question of whether justice is served in terms of the victim. Well, that’s not quite so simple either. In making us question every aspect of the psychology of this case, of the victim, the witnesses and the aggressors, we are forced to try and answer if the boys were a product of their environment. Do we, and their peers, justifiably condemn them as cold killers, or are they as much victims who were failed every bit as much as the boy they killed?
Perhaps we won’t be able to answer that question, even as we turn the final page and close the book. There is an air of melancholy about this story which fits the nature of the case and, if I am honest, left me feeling a little drained by the end of the book. The myriad of emotions that we go through will have that effect – a sign of a great book I think. Perhaps the most challenging case to date, I’ll be interested to see where, if anywhere, we go from here.
About the Author
Matt Wesolowski is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the UK. He is an English tutor for young people in care. Matt started his writing career in horror, and his short horror fiction has been published in numerous UK- and US-based anthologies such as Midnight Movie Creature, Selfies from the End of the World, Cold Iron and many more. His novella, The Black Land, a horror set on the Northumberland coast, was published in 2013. Matt was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in 2015. His debut thriller, Six Stories, was a bestseller in the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia, and a WHSmith Fresh Talent pick, and TV rights were sold to a major Hollywood studio. A prequel, Hydra, was published in 2018 and became an international bestseller. Changeling (2019), Beast (2020) and Deity (2021) soon followed suit.
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