Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Book Review: "Six Stories" by Matt Wesolowski

Wow, this was crazy good! I wasn't really sure what to expect but it definitely surprised me!

I may be in the minority, but I never listened to any of the Serial podcast. I know, I was supposed to be fantastic, but strangely enough, I have a real problem focusing if I have to just concentrate on listening to something. Reading, watching television, listening to music are all fine, but listening to a podcast or an audio book doesn't work for me. I'm a little too manic, I guess!

Matt Wesolowski's Six Stories follows the work of investigative journalist Scott King, whose program of the same name explores complicated cases, looking at them from six different perspectives. (Get it? Six perspectives, six stories?) He doesn't have a particular purpose in selecting the case—he's not an advocate for freeing unfairly prosecuted criminals or looking to reopen cases, he's just fascinated by complicated cases.

King decides to take on the 1996 disappearance of 15-year-old Tom Jeffries, who went missing during a trip his Outward Bound-type group took to the Scarclaw Fell Woodlands Centre. Tom was one of five teenagers who participated in the trip, and none of his peers knew what happened to him—when they went to bed he was there, and when they awoke in the morning, he was gone. Tom's body wasn't discovered until a year later by the son of the man who bought the land where the Centre once stood. His death was ruled a "misadventure," and no one was found liable.

Twenty years later, King interviews many of those involved at the time—the leader of the outdoors group who took the teens on the trip, a man who became inadvertently enmeshed with the teens, and several of the participants themselves, as well as the man who discovered Jeffries' body. The story that emerges years later sheds new light on the events leading up to the night Jeffries disappeared, the dynamics of the group of teenagers and their sometimes-troubling behavior, the instances in which more adult supervision might have changed things, and the disturbing and bizarre legends and ghost stories about a sinister figure or creature who haunts the Fell.

"There is evil in the world. There is definitely evil in this world of ours. We carve monuments to our fallen, engrave them with the names of those whose lives were snuffed out when trying to stop evil. We don't forget."

What really did happen the night Jeffries disappeared, and why did it take a year for his body to surface? Was someone supposedly innocent actually guilty, or was there a supernatural force at play? Can our memories, our interpretations of events which occurred so long ago, particularly when we were young, be trusted, or is everything open to manipulation? Can the person who weaves the threads of the stories together be trusted either?

This was a tremendously compelling book, full of suspense and twists. While I might have had some suspicions about how things would unfold, Wesolowski really kept me guessing, and kept me hooked as if I were listening to one of his podcasts. The story is a little creepy, a little sad, a little frustrating, and a little confusing—just like life itself.

I'm still not 100 percent sure how everything tied together, or what really happened in the end, but I enjoyed the ride Wesolowski took me on. Definitely one of those books that grabs you and doesn't really let you go.

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