On Christmas Eve in 1988, seven-year-old Alfie Marsden vanished in the Wentshire Forest Pass, when a burst tyre forced his father, Sorrel, to stop the car. Leaving the car to summon the emergency services, Sorrel returned to find his son gone. 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, his son and his ex-partner, to try to find out what really happened that fateful night. He takes a journey 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 where Alfie is…
If you’ve followed The Shelf for a while or seen my ravings on Twitter (@shelfofunread) you’ll know I’m a big fan of Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories series featuring online investigative journalist Scott King. Matt’s debut, Six Stories, was a deliciously dark thriller that justly deserved its place on my Best Books of 2017 list. It’s sequel, Hydra, built on those foundations with a sinister story for the internet age. And, with his latest book Changeling, Weslowski is, if possible, moving it up another notch with an unsettling tale about a missing boy, a grieving father, and long-buried secrets kept within the depths of an ancient forest.
As with Hydra, Changeling is a completely standalone ‘series’ of Six Stories, Scott King’s online podcast. So whilst I would highly recommend both Six Stories and Hydra to first-time readers (I mentioned they’re both utterly brilliant, right?), there’s no need to have read either book in order to enjoy the story on offer here. Once again we have a complete podcast series comprising of six episodes, each featuring the point of view of someone connected to the disappearance of little Alfie Marsden back in 1988. This time the episodes are interspersed with Scott King’s own narrative, one that often raises more questions than it answers. Who is the mysterious Anne who claims she knows more about the case than she is telling? Why is she speaking out after all this time? And why is Scott trying to solve the disappearance of Alfie Marsden instead of just reporting it? Getting answers is a rollercoaster of a ride and Weslowski keeps the reader guessing right up until the very last page!
As with the previous Six Stories books, Changeling absolutely oozes atmosphere. The eerie silence of Wentshire Forest, with its dark, foreboding paths and sinister, oppressive glades is brilliantly portrayed on the page. Woven into this creepy setting are tales of the supernatural and uncanny, from disembodied knocking to vengeful witches and mischievous fairy folk. There’s a palpable sense of tension, inching up slowly as Scott uncovers each narrative and adds each new perspective to Alfie’s story.
And those narratives are brilliantly conceived, transporting you straight into Scott’s investigation as you learn about Alfie, his family, and his disappearance. What would cause an ordinary little boy to become a difficult, angry child? Why has his mother never involved herself with the search to find him? What caused all of the electrics to fail during the search? As a reader, you find yourself probing, questioning, guessing, and reading between the lines and into the answers of every person involved in the search for the truth. The sense of disquiet ramps up with each turn of the page, taking the reader along on Scott’s journey, investigating alongside him every step of the way.
But what really knocked me for six was the way in which Wesolowski shows how, for all our tales of the sinister and the supernatural, the true monsters in life are much more mundane but equally terrifying. Changeling has a powerful ending, one that I won’t spoil here by saying anything other than it’s definitely one of the best twists I’ve read and that it packs an emotional punch that stays with you long after you’ve turned the final page.
As a fan of the Six Stories series, I knew I was going to enjoy Changeling. What I hadn’t anticipated was how much I would enjoy it. Changeling has jumped straight into my Best Books of 2018 with its brilliant pacing, creeping sense of unease and powerful, chilling story. Matt Wesolowski is a name that deserves to be better known amongst readers so I’d urge any mystery, crime and thriller fans – as well as anyone who loves a great read with a side order of sinister – to check out the Six Stories series and Changeling in particular – this is definitely Matt’s best book yet.
Changeling by Matt Wesolowski is published by Orenda Books and is available now as an ebook. The paperback and audiobook will be released on 15 January 2019, available from all good bookshops and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones and Amazon.