Source: Review Copy
Publication: January 15th 2018 from Orenda Books
One cold November night in 2014, in a small town in the north west
of England, 26-year-old Arla Macleod bludgeoned her mother,
father 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 witnesses and Arla herself, as he questions whether
Arla’s responsibility for the massacre was a 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 Children, whose presence extends far
beyond the delusions of a murderess…
By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes…
Ghost and horror stories are a classic form of storytelling and in Hydra Matt Wesolowski has taken a classic idea and delivered it in a contemporary format.
I finished this book before Christmas, but I wanted to let its impact settle on me before I started my review. Impact is such a slight word, really, for the force I felt as I read it. Because Hydra is a book that gets to the very root of fear, faces it and leaves you gasping.
Told, as with his previous book, Six Stories, in the form of six podcasts hosted by elusive online presenter Scott King, an investigative journalist, whose ‘Six Stories’ podcasts have become an internet sensation, King interviews Arla Macleod herself and five other people who are connected to Arla and her story.
Scott King is our podcast narrator, non – judgemental, factual interpreter, explorer of events, truth seeker. In this six episode podcast, Scott examines the cold case of Arla McLeod, a socially isolated young girl who was an outcast even in her own family. At the start of the podcast Arla is serving a life sentence incarcerated in a mental institution following her conviction for the murder of her mother, step father and sister each of whom she battered to death with a claw hammer.
There is a coldness to the writing that sends chills through you as you read. I don’t know if you have ever had nightmares, but there’s one I had as a young child with scarlet fever that stays with me to this day, over 50 years later. Hydra is like that – think your worst nightmare meets M.R.James’ Lost Hearts and you’ll be close.
Through interviews with Arla and some of the people who knew her or spent time with her, the listener is able to piece together a picture of Arla and her life and to try and understand what happened to in the lead up to the massacre of her family, something she has never denied responsibility for. Of course, not every one of these interviewees is a wholly reliable witness, and the reader has to puzzle their way through the information to try and work out just what has happened.
As we meet each of the interviewees, we learn a little more and we begin to understand that there are forces at work here which are more than simply horror inspired. Each interviewee offers a different perspective, suggests new information or opens up another avenue of enquiry.
Whether Arla was mentally unstable and if so, what caused that instability is one route. But each witness offers a seemingly authentic and convincing account of their role in Arla’s life and the events leading up to the massacre. The reader is led into a world of the supernatural with Japanese death games; social media trolling, and Arla’s mysterious black-eyed children.
Just like the Hydra of Greek legend, there are many heads to this monster and as one is shut down, another can easily rear up to take its place.
Wesolowski has created a format in which the sheer force of the voices of these six unvarnished interviews is the key to the tension, atmosphere and unbridled horror and darkness. No sooner has Scott started recording his interviews than he begins to receive text threats threats telling him to desist, and the more he persists, the more he wonders whether there is more to Arla’s story than he realises.
Dark, compact, but suffused with malign intent, mental instability and dark and malicious events, Hydra is a book to mess with your mind while it suspends your heartbeats.
The structure is straightforward and very compelling, but best of all it lends itself very well to the controlled, creative writing at which Wesolowski excels.
Hydra is a brilliant, dazzlingly accomplished book which has shot straight to the top of my 5 star, highly recommended list.
About the Author
Matt Wesolowski is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the UK.He is an English tutor and leads Cuckoo Young Writers creative writing workshops for young people in association with New WritingNorth. Matt started his writing career in horror and his short horror fiction has been published in Ethereal Tales magazine, Midnight Movie Creature Feature anthology, 22 More Quick Shivers anthology and many more. His debut novella The Black Land, a horror set on the Northumberland coast, was published in 2013. Matt was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in 2015. His debut thriller Six Stories was an Amazon bestseller in the USA, Canada, UK and Australia.
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