Series: Six Stories / Scott King
Book Number: 2
Read this book for: supernatural elements, unique formatting device, unreliable narrator, reader as detective, UK mysteries, horror reads
Quick Review: An intense, unforgettable, and gripping journey into the harrowing motives behind a gruesome act. Impossible to put down; absolutely brilliant.
One cold November night in 2014, in a small town in the northwest of England, 21-year-old Arla Macleod bludgeoned her mother, stepfather and younger sister to death with a hammer, in an unprovoked attack known as the Macleod Massacre. Now incarcerated at a medium-security mental-health institution, Arla will speak to no one but Scott King, an investigative journalist, whose Six Stories podcasts have become an internet sensation.
King finds himself immersed in an increasingly complex case, interviewing five key witnesses and Arla herself, as he questions whether Arla’s responsibility for the massacre was as diminished as her legal team made out.
As he unpicks the stories, he finds himself thrust into a world of deadly forbidden ‘games’, online trolls, and the mysterious black-eyed kids, whose presence seems to extend far beyond the delusions of a murderess…
HYDRA is the second novel in the brilliant Six Stories series by Matt Wesolowski, which combines the format of a true crime podcast with a mystery to solve, overlaid with a hair-raising supernatural element that most horror writers can only hope to achieve.
HYDRA takes place after SIX STORIES, and is ostensibly another season of host Scott King’s podcast. While I absolutely recommend you read SIX STORIES (check out the review here, or click here to access The Crime Review Q&A with Wesolowski about the novel), it’s not at all necessary to reading this instalment. HYDRA functions just as well as a stand-alone novel, as main character King’s stated intention with his podcast is to place the focus on the story rather than himself. While he inevitably gets slightly involved, the stories themselves take centre stage.
And what a story this one is! Centering around Arla Macleod and the massacre of her family — which is indisputable and for which she has been convicted and institutionalize — podcast host King feels that there’s something more to her motivation than just madness. He decides to dig into her background, and what might have led her to that horrific night.
This is where the format that Wesolowski uses really grips you. Brilliantly constructed as a series of podcast episodes interspersed with video recordings that Arla herself is making at the facility where she resides, each episode captures an interview between Scott King and typically people who knew Arla before the massacre of her family. Each interview fills in bits and pieces of the mystery of the events that caused Arla to start acting out, triggering her mental illness and ultimately leading to the death of her parents and sister. Because each of these stories are told from a particular point of view, they have natural gaps and questions, making you desperate to find out more, and the book impossible to put down.
Wesolowski does a fantastic job of rendering these chapters to seem like you really are listening to a true crime podcast. Each character’s voice is so palpably unique that it’s hard to believe you are not just reading a transcript. His mastery of atmosphere also extends into the supernatural elements of the novel. While mysterious black-eyed children are a frequently used horror trope, Wesolowski weaves these creepy tales together so masterfully that you want to abandon all rationality and actually believe that the occult occurances are the reason behind this entire story, despite your brain telling you it can’t possibly be true. It’s also creepy enough that it will affect you, even if you read a lot of horror!
Keep the lights on and clear a few hours to pick up HYDRA; it’s an experience not to be missed.