Hydra by Matt Wesolowski – Six Stories #2
My own copy from my TBR mountain
A family massacre
A deluded murderess
Which one is true?
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…
I really enjoyed the authors first novel Six Stories, it was clear to see that it was a fantastic debut novel and the author clearly had a natural talent for storytelling. I think the author brings something young and edgy to the crime fiction genre. It maybe the use of technology and crime novel surrounding a podcast. But I happen to think it is the writing style and knowledge of certain aspects of true life horror phenomenon. For example, when the lift footage of Elisa Lam was mentioned, I was instantly reminded of who creepy it is and yet it remains an unsolved case!
This podcast with Scott King revolves around Arla Macleod. A young woman who massacred her entire family one evening with a hammer! Why did this meek young woman commit murder? What drove her to kill those closest to her?
‘We rake over old graves’ – Scott king
The podcaster is able to video interview Arla, from her confines of Elmtree manor. Just the very theme of Arla being detained under the mental health act, rather than serving a lengthy prison sentence is cause for mass media speculation. Did Arla getaway easily with her crimes? Was she even mentally ill?
These are all themes Scott king wishes to explore with his podcast.
This is what makes Wesoloski’s novels so unique. They force you to question and explore why people do commit violent crimes and their personal reasoning for doing so.
In the first episode we hear directly from Arla. Although certain subjects are forbidden from discussion at the staff’s request. We also learn about Arla herself, the crime and the victims she killed. Arla lived with her mother and stepfather Stanley and sister Alice. Her biological father was violent and abusive and it was Stanley that ‘saved’ the family as they fled from Scotland to Stanwel. Stanwel is described as your typical run-down northern town, where nothing ever happens. That is until a young woman takes a hammer to her parent’s heads.
‘Her life was lived under the law her parents imposed’
Arla’s parents were right-wing Christians with firm and steadfast beliefs on issues such as abortion and LGBT rights. Arla began to reject her parents values in her teens and this seemed to inflame their attitudes towards her. With her sister Alice becoming the preferred ‘favourite child’.
Something happened to Arla, that much is clear.
But what occurred that day at 41 Redstart Road, Stanwel?
“I let them in. I let them in” – Arla
Arla talks of visions of ‘black eyed kids’ BEK, an urban myth amongst young teens. It is unclear if the BEK caused her to further seek out other occult behaviour or she was already actively seeking it out. Needless to say Arla was fascinated by the occult and the notion of escaping her current life.
Arla’s background is further explored and the details of her psychosis diagnosis. Is Arla mentally ill? Seems to be a common question in the novel and schizophrenia is known to present itself in the late teens/early 20s. So, there is more than enough room for speculation. Which I think makes for fantastic reading.
I typically avoid novels with a mental health theme, as that was my previous occupation and I hate to see it misrepresented in a novel. Statistically mentally ill people are more likely to harm themselves than others and too often it is distorted to fit a narrative in a crime fiction novel. But this was not the case at all within Hydra. The mental health aspects were backed up with knowledgeable facts. The central theme remained focused on understanding Arla, not condemning her due to her illness.
I must admit I really respect the author for that. It could have been too easy, to delve off into a tangent of mental health and loose sight of Arla completely.
As Scott King continues to interview people from Arla’s past such as her former teacher, childhood friend and holiday buddy. We learn more and more about why Arla was the way she was. Why she became so meek and introverted. Her obsession with the band Skexxixx and occult practices, is all explored.
At the same time Scott begins to receive personal threats to cease and desist with his Six Stories podcast. But he refuses to back down to the threats of an online troll.
But this troll just won’t simply go away!
‘No one wants you when the world tells you that you’re not important, that you don’t matter, that you’re an inconvenience – some people start to believe it; they make themselves unlikable’ – Angel Mawson
The novel has so many talking points, as it incorporates real-life themes within the story. In a comparison from Arla to the killers of James Bulger, we are forced to ask why the media was so quick to condemn two 10yr old boys instead of asking why they did it? The band Skexxixx is forced to shoulder some responsibility for the violent crime. Almost as if listening to a specific type of music can turn you into a killer.
But I can remember the exact same approach being used against Marilyn Manson in the aftermath of the Columbine shooting.
Why are we so quick to cling to meaningless reasons in the aftermath of a violent crime? Instead of seeking to understand the individual that felt the violent crime was their only way out!
I write my reviews days after reading the books. As I sit here now, I keep reflecting,
‘this is just such a bloody great book’.
So, there you go, this is simply put – such a bloody great book! 5*