In the wake of the ‘Beast from the East’ cold snap that ravaged the UK in 2018, a grisly discovery was made in a ruin on the Northumbrian coast. Twenty-four-year-old vlogger, Elizabeth Barton, had been barricaded inside what locals refer to as ‘The Vampire Tower’, where she was later found frozen to death.
Three young men, part of an alleged cult, were convicted of this terrible crime, which they described as a ‘prank gone wrong’. However, in the small town of Ergarth, questions have been raised about the nature of Elizabeth Barton’s death and whether the three convicted youths were even responsible.
Elusive online journalist Scott King speaks to six witnesses – people who knew both the victim and the three killers – to peer beneath the surface of the case. He uncovers whispers of a shocking online craze that held the young of Ergarth in its thrall and drove them to escalate a series of pranks in the name of internet fame. He hears of an abattoir on the edge of town, which held more than simple slaughter behind its walls, and the tragic and chilling legend of the Ergarth Vampire…
So excited to be on the blog tour today for Beast by Matt Wesolowski, the fourth book in his Six Stories series. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part and to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.
So hopefully my mini reviews of the first three books in the Six Stories series yesterday will have whetted your appetite for this one. (If you missed that post, you can find it here.) Having read the first three, I was champing at the bit to get to this one, knowing how much I had enjoyed them and then, reading that blurb! It sounds fantastic, right? Who wouldn’t want to dive right in?
The central theme of this book is extremely current and relevant in the present day, as it deals with the quest for internet fame and the lengths people will go to to get it. It really struck me how much of an issue this is while I was reading the book because, at the same time, I was enjoying the half term holiday in Wales with my five daughters/step-daughters aged between 12 and 16. They are all, to different degrees, obsessed with the app Tik-Tok, how many followers they have, how many followers you need to start earning money from your videos, learning the dances, and talking about people who are ‘Tik-Tok famous,’ and live in something called the ‘Hype House’ without their parents. It is all double Dutch to me but it is actually quite terrifying that this is something that young people strive to achieve these days, such superficiality of ambition. The author has captured this moment in the zeitgeist perfectly and written a story that ramps up this mild unease that I was feeling listening to them to the power of a thousand. It is a morality tale for our times.
The setting for the book in a grim, forgotten town on the bleak North Eastern coast during the worst winter storms in living memory. A more barren and hopeless place you could not imagine, and it is the perfect foil to the story because, what else is there for the young people of this town to aspire to outside of the bright thrall of the internet and the shiny, fake worlds that social media tantalises them with? The reality of their immediate surroundings are a decaying town that no one cares about and where there are no jobs. There is no hope for them but escape, either by moving away or by moving into the virtual world. Like the previous books, Matt manages to bring the location to vivid life, I could picture it perfectly, and imbue it with menace and darkness on every page. The darkness punches out of the page and squeezes a fist around the reader’s heart, and never eases its grip for a minute until the final page. I was almost breathless throughout my reading of the book, inhaled it in practically a single sitting and my heart was pounding the whole time. He really is a master storyteller, holding the reader in the palm of his hand as he plays deftly with every emotion in his arsenal, whilst making you think at the same time.
The plot was labyrinthine, with the pendulum of suspicion swinging wildly from suspect to suspect as every chapter unfolds. The format of presenting this as a podcast and interviewing six people with different roles in the story continues to work brilliantly. I was particularly impressed this time as Matt manages to tell the story without having access to any of the four main protagonists, the victims and the three convicted killers. All the people we hear from are on the outskirts. Or are they? Once again, things are not always what they seem and the reader’s perspective changes with the turn of every page, as the light shines on the prism from different sides and casts a new shadow with every twist. Again, there is the hint of the supernatural with the legend of the Ergarth Vampire and the allegation of cult activities factoring into the murder. But, as always, things are never what they seem and this story takes probably the most dramatic of turns so far.
This is my favourite of Matt’s books so far and, given how much I loved the others, that is a high bar to cross. This is a writer who is going from strength to strength, you can see the confidence in the format and his writing increasing with every novel. Aside from the masterful writing, the ominous atmosphere that seeped from the pages and into my bones, the fascinating character studies and clever and absorbing plot, this book brings to light a very real and very scary trend amongst the younger generation obsessed with online fame and the dangers that this can bring. It really made me stop and take notice of what he was saying, more so than any of the previous books, but in an entertaining way. This is no schlocky, superficial thriller, this is a book that has something to say that is worth listening to.
How long do I have to wait for the next one?
Beast is out now and you can buy a copy here.
Beast is taking a month-long tour with Random Things Tours so do make sure you check out some of the other reviews written by my fabulous fellow bloggers:
About the Author
Matt Wesolowski is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the UK. He is
an English tutor for young people in care.
Matt started his writing career in horror, and his short horror fiction has been published in numerous UK- an US-based anthologies such as Midnight Movie Creature, Selfies from the End of the World, Cold Iron and many more. His 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, the UK and Australia, and a WHSmith Fresh Talent pick, and film rights were sold to a major Hollywood studio. A prequel, Hydra, was published in 2018 and became an international bestseller.
Connect with Matt:
Website: Beyond The North Waves
Facebook: Matt Wesolowski