Written by Matt Wesolowski — In 1988, on Christmas Eve, seven-year-old Alfie Marsden and his father Sorrel drive through Wentshire Forest Pass, a dense wood on the border between Wales and England. A knocking sound starts emanating from the engine, then they get a flat. Sorrel stops, runs to a nearby tardis to call for help, and when he returns his child is gone. A search goes out, the woods are combed, but eventually search teams and the authorities give up. Thirty years pass and the boy is never been found. In 1995 Alfie Marsden is officially declared dead.
The case is cold when podcaster Scott King gets a mysterious letter prompting him to take on Marden’s case for his next and third installment of the Six Stories true crime podcast. King is reluctant and, for reasons unknown, has been for quite some time. But the letter writer’s promise of new revelations in the case compels him to take it on and begin a new investigation.
Changeling is the third book in Matt Wesolowski’s series about King’s fictional podcasts. The book is written in the form transcriptions compiled and narrated by the elusive online journalist, Scott King. The style mimics the highly produced true crime podcast genre made popular by series such as Serial and S-Town.
The book is written in six separate episodes, each with interviews from a different central witnesses. The first episode sets the context for the disappearance. We get a 999 transcript from the night Alfie disappeared, excerpts from a book about paranormal lore associated with Wentshire Forest, an interview with a paranormal pod caster, as well as a lengthy transcript of a conversation with Darren Morgan, once a colleague of Sorrel Marsden. The variety of sources in first episode make for an bit of an uneven opening chapter, but the conversations in this section and interview transcripts are quite compelling. The Morgan interview that closes the episode works to pull the pieces together and sets the stage for what’s to come, steadying the work.
Episode two focuses on the Wentshire Forest and contains an interview with Callum Wright, a labourer who worked on a construction project in the forest at the time of Alife’s disappearance. The strange sightings and paranormal activities discussed in this section are great. The eeriness brings to mind the works of John Connolly, the television series Twin Peaks, as well as the classic cult film The Blair Witch Project. But Wesolowski’s use of the paranormal, while evoking a similar tone to the these other works, is never derivative. The creepiness is fresh and is the best part of this book.
Subsequent episodes focus more on individual interviews and are all highly compelling. Wendy Morris, a friend and former colleague of Sorrel, gives an account of her relationship with the Marsden family during the time of Alife’s disappearance. Anne, a psychic, claims she knows what happened to Alife. There are also interviews with Alife’s mother, Sonia Lewis, and the boy’s father Sorrel Marsden. Wesolowski builds up competing and contradictory information resulting a Rashomon-effect that is compulsively readable and full of twists. The entirety of the work comes together extremely well, and the ending here is stellar and surprising.
Wesolowski is a talented writer and the voices in the text feel distinct and believable; a tremendous feat seeing as this is such an experimental and highly inventive form. Everything here works well as an intricately stitched-together whole. The only seam in this rather seamless work is the filler narrative provided as audio logs at the beginning of each chapter, in which King talks into a tape recorder, which verge into the realm of over explaining.
Changeling will really appeal to readers who like a supernatural element in their crime fiction. For fans of true crime podcasts, Wesolowski has perfectly capture the form in writing. The author has managed, over this series, to build great narratives that ratchet up the tension and leave enough off the page to truly haunt and frighten. The book is the third in the series and reads well as a stand-a-lone. But if you are a purist it is well worth going back to Six Stories and following these books from the start.
Check out our review the second Six Stories book Hydra.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars