BLURB: 1997. Scarclaw Fell. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an outward bound centre. Verdict? Misadventure. But not everyone is convinced. And the truth of what happened in the beautiful but eerie fell is locked in the memories of the tight-knit group of friends who embarked on that fateful trip, and the flimsy testimony of those living nearby. 2017. Enter elusive investigative journalist Scott King, whose podcast examinations of complicated cases have rivalled the success of Serial, with his concealed identity making him a cult internet figure. In a series of six interviews, King attempts to work out how the dynamics of a group of idle teenagers conspired with the sinister legends surrounding the fell to result in Jeffries’ mysterious death. And who’s to blame … As every interview unveils a new revelation, you’ll be forced to work out for yourself how Tom Jeffries died, and who is telling the truth. A chilling, unpredictable and startling thriller, Six Stories is also a classic murder mystery with a modern twist, and a devastating ending.
So, we come, at last, to our turn on the Six Stories blog tour – and unless you’ve been hiding in an old mineshaft on Scarclaw Fell, you’ll have heard the premise – Six Stories is, we learn, an incredibly successful podcast series (like Series and This American Life – I listened to a couple of episodes of Series, but it was old hat by then and I’d read too much about it to make it as gripping as it was for those who listened to it weekly, but I remember thinking it was rather sweet that something as basic and old-fashioned as this – comparable, more than anything, to a radio series – got everyone buzzing in the 21st century.) Anyway, Scott King investigates cases that are unresolved, or have a whiff of something, well, questionable about their resolution – and this one, where a boy’s body – that of Tom Jeffries – was found in 1997, a year after he went missing on Scarclaw Fell, fits that bill. The verdict, officially, was death by misadventure, so no crime was deemed to have been committed. He was staying with a loose, unofficial collective called the Rangers, who took a group of kids – including their own – to stay in a dorm-type building for weekends and do outdoor stuff, like hiking, and…stuff…Although the group of older children – 15-year-olds, by now – only seem interested in drinking and smoking dope in copious amounts. Derek Bickers’ (the man “in charge”, ostensibly!) explanation was along the lines of, “They’re going to do it anyway, so I’d rather they did it while they were safe…”! Except they weren’t! Because one ended up dead! And maybe they would do it anyway, but you don’t facilitate it! I’m not picking holes in the plot here, because it is true that some people think like him…and some parents do too!
At first, I questioned why any group of teenagers would want to spend weekends in the country, like proper, rough boggy hill-land. I grew up in a place like that, and, while it’s great when you’re ten and messing about on a Shetland pony – actually, it’s totally idyllic – by the time you’re a teenager, it’s pretty fucking crap. But it emerges that, during the week, each one of them feels a kind of outcast at school, or at home, so these weekends give them a chance to get together with other kids, even if they don’t talk to each other during the week.
So, each week, a different member of the Rangers, plus a local man who the kids had met on the fell, gives their take on what happened that weekend, and what could have happened to Tom Jeffries. We also hear from the landowner, Harry Saint Clements-Ramsay, who found the body with two friends, and who is now the owner of the land, and who returns between each episode. Loved this set-up – the whole book knits together really quickly, and because it’s written how we talk, it reads really quickly. I found the dialogue incredibly good, and each character had a fabulously unique way of talking. I kept wondering if the author had dictated it, then written it – the whole idea, after the popularity of podcasts, is really now. I feel you can’t, in reviewing this book, talk much about the plot, as, after giving the basic set-up, you want people to discover it for themselves!
It’s proper creepy – I got this horrible chill at one point, and had to put the book down, and it reminded me that the last time I felt that horrible creepiness was as a teenager, reading Gerald’s Game, by Stephen King, which never seems to be rated by anyone except me…it’s got the same unknown scary Thing (😁) from the outdoors coming for you. There’s various horribly vague sightings on the hill, and somehow that vagueness makes it worse!
The ending is just so clever. I spoke of the plot knitting together quickly, and this is where we see the finished article – I feel people have been tweeting #WTFthatending about the wrong book, doubtless because the other (also great) book is backed by a huge powerhouse of a publishers! Well, I say we should be tweeting, #WTFthisendingtoo, as it’s so fucking clever – I mean that in two ways: a) the concept of a book written like a podcast; and b) the ending. One of these books you so wish you’d thought of first…and, really, such original ideas don’t come along to make me think that very often, so I can’t give it higher praise than that….I’ve been thinking, yep, if Hitchcock were around nowadays, he’d love this idea too…
(Note: I haven’t read anything else since finishing off this book, but I feel like I’ve written this review the way I’d talk, which I don’t think I normally do….this Six Stories thing is catching!)
Don’t miss it!
I received a copy of this book from Karen Sullivan and Anne Cater at Orenda Books in exchange for an honest review.