Publication Date: 15th January 2019
I’ve recently become changeling obsessed.
There I’ve said it.
I read Little Darlings by Melanie Golding a few weeks ago and was suckered in by the whole idea of changelings. (Man those babies in that book are creeeeeepy!).
So I put a little shout out to the Twitter book massive and asked for any other changeling based recommendations and lo and behold the lovely Karen at Orenda Books suggested Changeling by Matt Wesolowski. Not only did she suggest it, she also very generously sent me a copy! And that my friends is why I call her ‘the lovely Karen’.
I had seen this book along with Matt’s other books, Six Stories and Hydra doing the Twitter rounds with huge praise and stonking reviews but I think at the time I was caught up with other books and life and they kind of fell by the wayside. I have to admit that I was intrigued by the podcast audio narrative of the books and knew that at some point I would read them.
So….Changeling. Lets get straight into it.
Scott King is the host of a podcast called Six Stories in which he investigates cold crime cases and looks at what happened through six different perspectives. Taking an old case and looking at it anew through the eyes of six people who were connected at the time.
When Scott receives a letter suggesting he investigate the case of 7 year old Alfie Marsden who disappeared from his fathers car in the Wentshire Forest on Christmas Eve 1988 and was never seen again, he has pause to think. Young Alfie had been sleeping in the back of his father, Sorrel’s, car on that fateful night. Sorrel, on hearing a knocking coming from the car engine, pulled over to investigate just near a new construction site Great Escapes. A matter of minutes later, Alfie was gone, missing without a trace. He was officially declared presumed dead in 1995.
Surely everyone already knows about this case? what more can be gained by making it the focus of the Six Stories podcast?
But, Scott takes it on despite a reticence he feels deep inside about stirring this case up and bringing it back to life and starts speaking to 6 witnesses with connections to the case in some way. We hear from Alfie’s parents Sorrel and Sonia, and amongst others we hear from a construction worker, a psychic, and a teaching assistant from Alfie’s school who spent a lot of time with him.
Each of these interviews, told in the Six Stories podcast audio narrative are sinister and eye opening in equal measure. I found two points of view particularly creepy, they made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end! Firstly, the narrative of Callum the construction worker who tells of the environment in which they were building Great Escapes and the strange and unnerving goings on there.
Wentshire Forest is already home to various myths and legends, most of which are firmly rooted in the sinister, surrounding tales of ‘The Wentshire Witch’ and changelings. But when Callum starts to experience odd occurrences in the isolated, dense forest he begins to wonder just how much of these tall tales are actually myths after all…..
It was the knocking – on the doors, the windows, the ceilings of the vehicles. I remember going and sitting in with someone once, so they could prove they weren’t losing their mind. It was fucking insane. That knocking came from anywhere you weren’t looking. Above your head, behind your back, over your shoulder, it was horrible. If you tried to look around it would move. It was like it knew……
I read this section on the bus. A jam packed bus full of people minding their own business and yet I was transported to Wentshire Forest in the expert hands of Matt Wesolowski and I felt like I was there, experiencing all that Callum and his colleagues had. So much so that when the bus driver’s radio crackled loudly into life I nearly jumped out of my skin!
This uneasy feeling didn’t abate when I got to the safety of my own home however….
I usually keep a book in my bag for the bus journey to work, lunchtime reading in the office and then to keep me company on the bus journey home, I rarely read my ‘bus book’ at home.
HOWEVER! I couldn’t put Changeling back in my bag and just not think about it! So out it came and I carried on reading.
The next voice we heard from was the late Delyth Rice who had recorded her own audio files for her dissertation on behaviour in young children from a time when she worked closely with a ‘difficult’ child in the school she was employed at. This child is referred to as Child A throughout, but it is assumed that this troubled boy is Alfie Marsden.
These passages told through Delyth’s audio accounts are some of the most atmospheric in the whole book. I was so tense reading them!My shoulders were up around my ears! Delyth tells of the encounters and experiences she’s had with Child A when she is supervising him alone in the classroom in a one on one situation.
It feels like hours, we sit there. Stalemate. I remember thinking, fine, just fine. I’ll get plenty of stories from the staffroom. That’s when I hear it. Tap-tap-tap. I almost drop the book. It sounds like it’s coming from right under Mrs Moss’s desk. I look straight at Child A, expecting not to see him in his seat, but there he is. The same position, no sign of movement. I stare at him for a little while longer, willing him to raise his head, to grin….anything. Nothing. I am shaken, a little bit. You see with kids, when they do something naughty, they can’t help looking at you, to see if you’ve noticed. Crafty, I think. Not like a normal child at all. Tap-tap-tap. Louder this time, and I nearly cry out. I swear, it’s like there’s someone underneath the desk. I even push my chair back to look – to see for myself that someone isn’t lying there, tapping the underside of the desk with a pencil. That’s what it sounds like. Of course there’s no one there. Of course there isn’t. I look back up, pull back into the desk. And I see that Child A has moved…
Now……I looked up whilst reading this to see my teenage child standing at the window staring at me with his face painted like The Joker (it had been sports day at school). I nearly died!
Children can be so creeeeepy!
In all seriousness though, I’m quite good with creepy, unnerving stuff. I’m quite partial to a horror film but for me to feel so deeply invested and sucked right into the story enough to block out everything around me is testament to how evocative Matt Wesolowski’s writing is.
Scott King carries on his investigation. Analysing the different narratives, the opposing perspectives and trying to piece it all together. We go on to hear from Sonia, Alfie’s mother, a troubled woman with an alcohol problem, a woman who stayed away from the eyes of the press at the time of Alfie’s disappearance. A woman who appeared to all intents and purposes to be quite detached and cold. Conversely we then have Sorrel, Alfie’s heartbroken father. A man who still makes the journey to the Wentshire Forest to try and find his son, even now, years after the event.
But what can Scott glean from all this information? Can he find any new leads that may help put the mystery of Alfie’s disappearance to bed? is he really just raking over old ground? And will he regret unearthing past secrets that maybe should have stayed buried?
The sinister undertone running throughout every single part of this story is what had me hooked! I love my fiction dark and I adore being expertly transported into a place where I don’t feel safe. I can honestly say this book got under my skin in a very real way and is unlike any thriller I have ever read before.
The fresh and contemporary feel of the podcast narrative made for a propulsive read. This was the ultimate ‘I couldn’t put it down’ book. Because really and truly I couldn’t! The ending, when it came was a shocker to me too! Looking back on it now I’m wondering whether I should have known what had happened all along…..but I really didn’t, and I’m so pleased it happened that way.
I am now so excited to move on to Six Stories and Hydra, Matt Wesolowski is undoubtedly a very skilled writer and I can’t wait to give myself over to his capable hands as it were, and immerse myself in the intriguing world of Scott King.
Thank you very much as always to Karen at Orenda for my review copy.
See you all soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xx