Book Review: Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski

six stories

In 1996, 15-year-old Tom Jeffries goes missing while on an outreach expedition to Scarclaw Fell. His mutilated body is found the following year by the son of the land’s owner. Twenty years later, no-one has been brought to account for the seeming crime and Tom’s story becomes the subject of a series of podcasts by renowned journalist Scott King, who likes to investigate so-called ‘cold’ cases. Interviewing the members of the Rangers group with whom Tom visited the fell, King sets out to get a clearer picture of the events that led to the tragic death of the teen.

Wesolowski’s book is no straightforward crime novel; it is a psychological thriller, Gothic novel, series of podcasts and an in-depth exploration of the motives behind human behaviour all rolled into one. Structured as six interviews with Tom Jeffries’ friends and acquaintances, the novel explores their different perspectives on the events leading up to Tom’s disappearance, each ‘story’ giving the plot another subtle twist. While each take on what might have happened to Tom is different, each podcast gives the reader another set of clues. Thus, Wesolowski successfully builds a bigger picture that enables the reader to ‘see around’ the characters’ limited viewpoints. Are Tom’s friends telling the truth? Or is there more to what happened than they are revealing?

With folkloric tales of terrifying creatures on the fell, Wesolowski also dips into the supernatural in this novel. Indeed, his atmospheric and highly detailed descriptions of the novel’s setting carry a strong link to 19th century Gothic literature. The contemporary structure of the book, however, most certainly gives Six Stories a modern twist, ensuring its appeal to the 21st century reader. If you are a fan of podcasts, particularly the seemingly much revered Serial, then this book is for you. If you are not a podcast fanatic (as I’m not) then the traditional murder-mystery aspect of the novel is still very much likely to appeal. In other words, Six Stories has something for everyone.

Six Stories is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now.

Book Review: The Mask of Sanity by Jacob M Appel

mask of sanity

Dr Jeremy Balint appears to have it all. A successful and highly respected cardiologist, he has a professional reputation envied by many, is a supportive husband, doting father and model son. When his personal life and idyllic family set up are threatened, however, Balint’s Mr Hyde soon comes to the fore, the doctor making it clear that a sociopathic, and murderous, alter-ego is lurking beneath the suburban façade.

In this modern day, middle class version of Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, the reader joins Balint as he explores the darker side of his own character. Discovering his wife is having an affair with one of his colleagues, Balint sets out to kill his rival. However, in order to do this without detection, the doctor determines that a series of killings are his only option. Thus begins the calm and calculated killing spree of the so-called ‘Emerald Choker’, carried out, mostly, without regret or remorse.

Keeping us closely tied to the mind of his protagonist at all times, Jacob M Appel invites the reader to spectate as Balint attempts to save his family, his personal life, rather ironically, beginning to slowly unravel whilst he is busy killing people. While his behaviour is often unforgiveable, the reader, I suspect, in most cases, is very much on Balint’s side. Although this learn-on-the-job killer seems to, somewhat unrealistically at times, very much pull the wool over the eyes of the authorities, his colleagues and his loved ones, that is exactly what we want him to do. Whilst we know he should be held accountable for these awful crimes, it’s actually the last thing we are hoping will happen.

The title of the novel says it all: Dr Jeremy Balint does indeed wear the Mask of Sanity and he wears it well. Is he discovered? That is for the potential reader to find out, and to hope for or against. There seem to be differing opinions about the ending of this book, with some readers not liking Appel’s decision to leave the interpretation to the reader and other fans hoping the last line might lead to a sequel. For me, however, the unexpected twist that the end of Jeremy Balint’s story brings is perfect just as it stands, even if it did start my mind racing….

The Mask of Sanity is published by Permanent Press and is available to buy now.