It is nearly two years since I reviewed Six Stories, the first instalment of the series by Matt Wesolowski that follows a podcast format of six episodes to share six different perspectives on a cold police investigation. I was immediately impressed by the format, which fitted perfectly with host Scott King’s revisiting of an old, unsolved mystery, interviewing key people in each episode, shedding new light on events and uncovering old secrets.
Changeling is the third novel in the series and the format continues to work perfectly, but the emotional pull of the narrative has seen a step change. I missed Hydra, the second instalment, so I cannot say whether the trajectory has been consistent but although the original was a gripping thriller this story of the disappearance of seven-year-old Alfie Marsden is a fist around the heart, relentlessly squeezing until the final devastating release.
Alfie Marsden goes missing in Wentshire Forest on Christmas Eve 1988. His parents have separated and his father breaks up an attempt at a family Christmas concerned that Alfie is no longer safe with his alcoholic mother. He pulls over on the Wentshire Forest Pass to investigate a tapping sound in the engine of his car but within a few minutes of his head being under the bonnet he finds Alfie is gone. Organised searches fail to find the lost child but his father returns to the site every year to visit a shrine and hope that his son might somehow return from the trees.
Alfie was officially declared presumed dead in 1995. A case gone cold and ideal material for Scott King to investigate, but he does so reluctantly. Something unnerves him about this particular case. Is it the strange stories about Wentshire Forest that are unsettling him or the people creeping out of the shadows, guiding him like a chess piece through a Six Stories that seems to have moved out of his control?
The picture builds throughout the episodes, which make up equally balanced chapters. You start to sense the elements that don’t quite add up, but who can you believe and how is their perception of events distorted by their perspectives? The speculation inevitably begins to take hold of you as you digest each new insight. By the time the final chapter loomed I knew what was coming but it didn’t lessen the impact at all.
Sometimes you can feel what the author has invested emotionally into their writing and this is one of those cases where it clearly mattered to Matt Wesolowski that he tell this story. It’s a book that you won’t want to put down as each episode leads a little further into a nightmare of psychological manipulation. What stays with you at the end is the people, the voices of the lives that have been affected. Good work Matt, a vital story beautifully told.
On Christmas Eve in 1988, seven-year-old Alfie Marsden vanished in the dark Wentshire Forest Pass, when his father, Sorrel, stopped the car to investigate a mysterious knocking sound. No trace of the child, nor his remains, have ever been found. Alfie Marsden was declared officially dead in 1995.
Elusive online journalist, Scott King, whose ‘Six Stories’ podcasts have become an internet sensation, investigates the disappearance, interviewing six witnesses, including Sorrel and his ex-partner, to try to find out what really happened that fateful night. Journeying through the trees of the Wentshire Forest – a place synonymous with strange sightings, and tales of hidden folk who dwell there, he talks to a company that tried and failed to build a development in the forest, and a psychic who claims to know what happened to the little boy…
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- an 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 an Amazon bestseller in the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia, and a WHSmith Fresh Talent pick, and film rights were sold to a major Hollywood studio. Hydra, was published in 2018 and became an international bestseller.
The blog tour for Changeling featured a short interview with the author that you ca read here: