Death at Scarclaw Fell: SIX STORIES by Matt Wesolowski


Have you ever wondered what would happen if you examined a situation from multiple angles? Round up all of the people involved and ask them about what happened. You’d watch their opinions differ and their accounts mix and match.

Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories follows this premise. It is the written transcript of Scott King’s podcast. Scott’s goal is to rake up old graves. He takes cold cases and looks at them, not as a detective or reporter. He gives people involved a space to talk, and they are drawn to him because of this perspective.

The characters interviewed felt so real that it might have been a true story. I appreciated how people with disabilities were given compassion. It was refreshing to read a piece where the narrator (in this case, Scott King) takes into account the status of a vulnerable adult.

The six points-of-view were flawless to me. Motives were clear, backgrounds separate. While they all lived through the same tragedy, they approached it in distinct ways. Some were ashamed by it; others were almost indifferent. Everyone who knew the murdered kid was affected by him in distinct ways. This affected how much sympathy they showed for him later.

I have to admit it: their stories made it easy to single out who was “it.” I wasn’t surprised when the big reveal happened. I don’t know if the author did this on purpose, focusing on the different voices and how they lead to the same conclusion. It did not take away from my enjoyment of the novel.

Perhaps what was creepiest about the situation was how normal it felt. These teenagers were behaving like teenagers. The trouble they got into with smoking and drinking was what you would expect from angsty teens.

Right until the end, when we learn of the horrific, we struggle to believe they are being interviewed about a murder. It might have been an intervention.

This well-written thriller has a wonderful mythical, horror flavoring. I sometimes wondered if there could be spirits and monsters in the marsh. It is bleak, detailed, and–in my opinion–a great idea for a mystery book.

A heads up for those who mind: the novel has strong language. It wasn’t bad enough to distract me from the plot. If you want a good thriller, I encourage anyone reading this to give Six Stories a try.

Suspense: KILLING FLOOR by Lee Child


I once read of a technique that is commonly used by suspense writers to raise the tension level in a book. It involves breaking up sentences. Adding variety. Making it sound like a mind in the midst of a complicated problem.

This clue equals this. Except–what about this? And there is this as well.

I first encountered this technique in Shari Lapena’s The Couple Next Door. It’s an effective way to illustrate panic, helplessness, and anxiety in a character; it makes the reader feel the same way. The second thriller I have finished reading, Killing Floor by Lee Child, uses the same technique.

My exploration of the the thriller genre is creating many chances for me to sample well-known names and series. The Jack Reacher books are stories I never imagined myself reading. For years I have fed my inner reader on flowing sentences from poetic literature; it’s taking me a while to adjust to the jerky, high-energy nature of thrillers and mysteries.

Killing Floor isn’t what I expected–but then, I didn’t know what I was expecting when I decided to give this series a try. I enjoyed the story, and certainly will look for the other books. However, I struggled to find common ground with Jack Reacher himself. I think that might have been done on purpose. 

His character is portrayed as solitary, detached, almost selfish. This means that the characters surrounding him are full of color and life. The romance is detached, surface-level, not the profound stuff that I enjoy reading–but it suits a character like him.

He’s intent on not staying anywhere, living a life of freedom, leaving no trace of his existence, even in the form of receipts.

The plot, though–it is so complex that I forgive the dryness of Jack’s character. The world in Killing Floor is a giant jigsaw puzzle, the kind where you have twenty pieces that are the same color blue. You’ll spend days, probably, trying to get those pieces together, and when at last you discover the order in which they click, the picture has the detail you’ve been missing. 

Such is the world of Killing Floor: You have a handful of compelling but dissonant clues, and wrest with them for a while. By the time Jack has figured out which direction to take, that world is more realistic and beautiful; you want to get deeper in.

By the time Killing Floor has become a safe world with the criminals put away, the book has ended. You’re given a chapter or two of joy and a radiant glimpse at what the town of Margrave will be like without bad guys.

Then, Jack decides he doesn’t want to stay in Margrave–and it’s over. You’ve walked a wild path with him, solving mysteries and staying alive, but just like him, you can’t stay. You’ve been rewarded with only a glimpse of a small town at peace.

This genre of writing is far from what I’m used to, but remains a refreshing change. I’m drinking in the techniques used to write thriller and suspense, hoping to use them one day in my own books. There are so many new books for me to choose from that I feel like I’m in a brand-new playground, surrounded by adventures.

It pays to leave your comfort zone. Try a genre you didn’t think you would like: you will discover literature in all its beauty. It will make you feel, think, and hope for things you hadn’t before. It will widen your worldview. You’ll be reminded that the possibilities with novels and stories are endless.

Have you read the Jack Reacher books? What do you think about them? Which book in the series is your favorite?

Entering the Mystery Genre


For the book lover, literature becomes more beautiful over time. With the passing of the years, our tastes in books evolve. We learn about a certain genre, falling for it to an extent that we live in it, and suddenly–another genre whisks us to a new place. We then see the world from a different angle.

I have been immersed in historical fiction for at least three years. I’ve learned a great deal about important events, how life was lived, the way people dressed, and social interactions. This information molded most of my recent manuscripts. Historical fiction continues to be an important part of what I write and will eventually publish.

I didn’t like mysteries when I was younger. Maybe the mysteries that I chose to read were not the best, but I found them tedious and boring. I was more interested in emotional books than the mechanics of building a whodunnit. I never considered reading thrillers–I guess too many of them were overrated? Too many used paperbacks were sent in droves to the thrift store? I can’t account for my aversion to thrillers.

This year, towards the end of May, I was barricaded with ideas for a mystery. I won’t give details, but it is set in the present day (pre-Covid, mind) and it has been delightful to work with characters who have the same advantages that I do. They’re all over my imagination now; I can’t focus on banal tasks without a new scene filling my head. I even find reading difficult to do, since these new characters want to have my attention; they won’t share it with a novel.

Aware that I haven’t the slightest idea of how to write a mystery, I began searching for good ones to read. Ever loyal to the classics, I am reading Agatha Christie–but since what I’m writing is present-day, I’m also looking for modern mysteries. The thrillers that I find present a welcome change in pace from the classics that I had been reading, though Alexandre Dumas still paints better pictures in my imagination.

In short, I am reading things I never thought I would be reading before; is this a sign of maturity in a reader?

The first thriller I’ve read was suggested in a book group. The Couple Next Door was part of a bookhaul I got at a yard sale, and it had been sitting in the back of my closet for three years. It was delightful when I realized that the most popular thriller in that group was already within my reach. I found it and finished it–in one day.

What a change in pace. What a race to an unexpected ending. I definitely want to read more; I’ll be looking for the next book.

The reader’s life involves many forms of growth. Some of them can only be understood by other readers. As I enter the genres of Mystery and Thriller, I want to learn all about them. The first thing I looked up after finishing The Couple Next Door was Which are the first thrillers that were written? Though I did not find a direct answer, I did discover a good list of thrillers here. A couple are good old classics that I was planning to read anyway, including The Moonstone and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.

It feels like I’ve taken an unexpected turn in the road of reading and writing, and I’d like to find people already deep in those genres to share with. Do you have a favorite mystery or thriller book? Do you know of any blogs that might help me on this new path? Please comment and let me know!