This time the identity of the murderer is not the object of journalist and podcaster Scott King’s investigations: we already know that one night late in November 2014, 21-year old Arla Macleod murdered her mother, sister and step-father at their home in Stanwel, northwest England. On grounds of diminished responsibility – seemingly a psychotic break – Arla has been controversially been detained in Elmtree Manor, a medium-security mental-health institution, rather than in prison or a higher-security institution, such as Broadmoor or Rampton. What we don’t know is why she killed them…
Once again taking the form of a six-part Serial-style podcast, which looks at old (usually cold) cases from six different vantage points, Wesolowski is onto a winning formula. Each of the six parts reveals a little more and elaborates on the narrative. Six Stories looked into the mysterious death of Tom Jefferies, ten years prior; with Hydra, the case is obviously much fresher and the focus shifted to the whys behind Arla’s killing of her family. Scott King explores – via conversation with Arla herself, his own research and speculation, and interviews with people who knew her – some of the potential reasons that might have induced a young woman to massacre her family.
As readers we are also privy to something that the fictional audience of King’s ‘Six Stories’ podcast series are not – audio recordings, not unlike diary entries, Arla makes for her therapist. These cryptic, dreamlike confessions provide crucial insight into how she thinks about herself and hints at some of the causes of what happened to her.
From the outset it’s clear that Hydra harnesses the same brilliantly spooky vibe and page-turning quality as Six Stories. Hydra is an infinitely accomplished and supremely imaginative work – because we already know who did it, usually the crux of a crime novel, Wesolowski maintains suspense through a masterfully tantalising slow reveal keeping the reader guessing as to why Arla did what she did.
It is not just the podcast-based narrative structure that makes this novel so topical. Hydra is able to weave in a host of pertinent issues surrounding how we react and interact with society, internet and contemporary culture and mental-health issues. Full of weird and wonderful pop-culture references like BEKs, the Elevator game and the Hooded man ritual, as well as sensational creations – a special mention of Skexxixx, the utterly convincing alternative music icon – this novel manages to pull off a classic crime and horror feel (ghosts stories and rituals in the old school boiler room) along with extremely contemporary concerns –trolling, fact-light sensationalist reportage, urban legends, internet phenomena and creepypastas.
Both horror and crime fans will relish the atmosphere created by the build-up of small revelations and sinister goings-on. The future of Scott King’s series is left hanging in the balance by the novel’s ending and I’m sure I’m not the only one desperately hoping that this isn’t the last we’ve heard from ‘Six Stories’.