Orenda Books, 18 December 2020 (e), 18 February 2021 (PB)
Available as: e, PB, 249pp
It was about time I caught up with the Six Stories world. These books feature podcastist Scott King's take on a recent mystery, presented not from all angles, as he admits, that would be impossible, but through - yes - six episodes, six stories, six perspectives.
In Deity, the focus is on recently deceased musician Zach Crystal. You have heard of Crystal, who burst into celebrity in the 90s and then grew increasingly weird and reclusive. You'll have heard the rumours, of visits to his remote Scottish compounds, Crystal Forest, but young fans. Of cover-ups and non-disclosure agreements. Of hush money and deaths in the forest. Of the fire that took Crystal's life.
Well now, Scott King is going to sift fact from fiction, and truth from rumour. To give a rounded picture, letting those involved with Crystal speak for themselves - the fans and the critics, the former colleagues, those who came up against Crystal's formidable PR machine, and those who know him early in his career.
Between these accounts we get Scott's own contextualisation, and also a transcript of a late TV appearance by Crystal, a sort of apotheosis of his strange and tragic life. It isn't just the #MeToo accusation that make his life notorious - Crystal Forest is located in a region of the Grampian mountains haunted by dark folktales, takes that seem to have taken root in Crystal's life, music and imagination. The two threads are entwined in what happens here: but are those stories of things stalking the forests a cause of his paranoia Or are they the result of it? Or a distraction from the scandalous rumours that engulfed him in the end?
Wesolowski weaves together all these threads expertly. It's a deliberately obscure, complex story. We have many examples before us now of celebrities - musicians, actors, DJs, impresarios - who abused their power and access. We have many examples of how even apparently selfless humanitarian work can be a cover, or even a means of gaining access to the vulnerable, so the outline of Crystal's life will seem familiar, spark connections. But at the same time, Wesolowski is at pains to show how there are always other versions of the truth, other perspectives, available and to leave open a shifting gamut of realities to explain what happens here. There is still altruism in the world. Crystal has his passionate defenders. Some of his accusers may not bear much scrutiny themselves, and the early lives of Zach and his sister, Naomi, who started out singing together are such that they also arouse genuine pity.
It is an absorbing and at times, genuinely scary story, told in hints and suggestions, rags and patches, less a linear narrative than a piece of truth crystallising slowly out of a murky solution. Each time I though I had the answer another narrative would pull the rug out form under my theory, before Wesolowksi spiralled back to a similar, but different, perspective which would then itself be laid low. I genuinely did not know where this was going and - whether you see it as a crime novel, a story of the supernatural or a chronicle of human frailty - the ending will I think come as a real shock.
I the course of the story, Wesolowski revisits themes and contributors form earlier Six Stories, adding to the complexity and inner reality of his invented world, and also hints at consequences for King from the choices he makes in the course of this book, perhaps setting up future books to complicate and develop that reality further. While sometimes dark in subject matter, I felt the book - by taking to fiction - was able to illuminate some recent high profile scandals and in doing so it creates a totally readable, indeed often compelling, narrative which I'd wholeheartedly recommend.
For more information about the book, see the Orenda Books website here - or any of the stops on the blogtour (see poster below).