Utterly addictive. A detailed and involving tale, weaved from six different perspectives leading to an ending that will rock back even the most hardened of crime / noir fans. This is modern storytelling at its imaginative finest.
All the Buy links you need are at Orenda Books here.
Changeling is actually the third in the Six Stories series named for a fictional podcast, however it’s the first one I have read and on the strength of the evidence here I will be going back to read the first two. The premise is disarmingly simple, the story takes the shape of six podcast episodes following one mystery from six different perspectives, with research notes from the host in between. As the story progresses though, you start to understand just how detailed the structure of the story actually is, Matt drip feeds certain character and story elements to carefully guide the reader exactly where he wants them to go. It’s a remarkably achieved balance of fast paced, fluid writing, with a slow burn story. Those two things together usually make for an Oxymoron. Matt is the exception that proves the rule.
Scott King is our host and guide throughout. Scott acts as a detached narrator, uninvolved in the mystery that is unravelling, yet somehow consumed by getting to the bottom of it. The story he is researching for the latest series of Six Stories centers on Alfie Marsden who went missing thirty years earlier at just seven years old, the area where it happened and the local legends of the haunted woods, now a military installation, all adding to the intrigue. A picture slowly builds up of the people in Alfie’s life and the rumors that surrounded his disappearance. Rumors that started to become cemented in local legend as Alfie was never found. We start to understand, through those that were connected, more about Alfie and his mother and father as the story builds towards its dramatic conclusion.
The early picture of the young, unhinged, alcoholic mother which has been cemented by the media and by the largely accepted accounts of Alfie’s father, betray a far deeper and more disturbing story. Each chapter compels you to re-assess what you have already heard in a new light. Investigating themes of controlling behaviors as a form of domestic abuse in a compelling way, Matt really brings to life the impacts this can have on a person in the short and the long term, and by building the themes into the story also provides a set of tools to spot what can often be a well hidden form of abuse. Some chapters can get quite upsetting as a result, in particular when you start to think about similar situations you might have found yourself in. Would you recognise certain signs? Would you have the courage to ask questions? Where these characters victims of a different time?
I also just want to talk about Scott for a moment, its an interesting choice using an investigative journalist podcast host as a narrator. Particularly as the majority of the story is the podcast episodes as they unfold. He speaks in a manner which suggests a balance to his investigation and in such a way as you trust that he is giving you the full story. But any podcast episode, by its very nature, will be edited. In giving us only brief audio log snippets between the episodes to get a look at Scott’s process and thinking, Matt actually creates a rather mysterious lead character, its unusual to have faith in a character about whom we know so little. Ostensibly we are hearing the story from six perspectives but each one is filtered through Scott’s hands as host and editor, so are we really getting the full picture? Or are we seeing Scott’s emerging conclusions re-enforced? That’s not something that I think will ever be answered, and is what makes Changeling such an addictive, engaging and thought-provoking novel.