Written by Luca Veste — Known for the Liverpool-based police procedurals in his Murphy and Rossi series, Luca Veste also loves mixing a bit of horror into his crime fiction. In 2018 he brought us The Bone Keeper, and his latest standalone is The Six. As the title suggests, it involves six friends. There are also two bodies, and a horrible secret that the six may carry to their graves. By the look of things they might meet their graves sooner than expected.
Before they finally let go of their carefree youth and accept that they are in their mid-30s, friends Michelle, Stuart, Chris, Nicola, Alexandra and Matt decide to go on one last adventure – a camping trip at a music festival, where they can forget about their responsibilities and reminisce about the past and their life-long friendship. Plenty of 90s music references contribute a celebratory and lighthearted mood as the novel gets underway.
However, nostalgia and happiness soon turn into horror and regret when a scream in the woods near their camp wakes them up. Within moments a series of events is triggered that turns the lives of the six into a nightmare destined to haunt them for years to come.
A year passes and the night’s incident has impacted everyone in different ways. Even though their secret is still safe, one by one the past comes back to haunt them. It seems the guilt has caught up with Stuart and he commits suicide, sharply resurrecting what happened at the festival for what is now the five. Then someone starts leaving references to the night’s incident in their houses and the friends realise their secret might not be so safe after all.
The story is told from Matt’s perspective. He takes the lead in trying to find the killer before the death toll rises, and is led on a wild goose chase. Of course the first person perspective adds an extra element of tension to the story – particularly when the narrator has to deal with a psychological obstacle of his own. When Michelle wants to come clean, added pressure is placed on the group, as well as a possible motive to kill. How strong is this bond of friendship really?
Veste is particularly adept at leading his reader up the garden path. Large parts of the story consist of flashbacks to the friends’ time together at school and university. “…people considered us misfits. The group that was always a bit off from the rest”. This background puts their friendship into context, it also reveals that some members of the group have a violent past. These selective memories sow the seeds of doubt as to what really happened in the woods that night.
Veste weaves an unsettling thread throughout the novel, dropping hints of what’s to come. Almost from the start we are made aware that something bad will be happening and that ominous feeling looms like a thundercloud over your head.
At times the story tends to drag a bit, mostly due to a great deal of repetition. This aims to accentuate the group’s recurring and haunting recollection of the incident but has the effect of slowing the momentum. Eventually, in the second half of the novel the pace picks up when the group decide to a follow up suspicions as to who the perpetrator might be.
The Six is riddled with red herrings and clearly Veste has no difficulty in building suspense and creating a creepy atmosphere. He also knows how to use those red herrings to his advantage to create the element of surprise.
Apart from being a crime novel, The Six mixes in horror tropes such as the urban legend of a serial killer, and a cabin in the woods. If you like your crime fiction on the more psychological side, this is definitely for you. Think The Blair Witch Project meets I Know What You Did Last Summer and you might be close.
Simon & Schuster
CFL Rating: 4 Stars