In 1995, the picture-perfect village of Ussalthwaite was the site of one of the most heinous crimes imaginable, in a case that shocked the world.
Twelve-year-old Sidney Parsons was savagely murdered by two boys his own age. No reason was ever given for this terrible crime, and the ‘Demonic Duo’ who killed him were imprisoned until their release in 2002, when they were given new identities and lifetime anonymity.
Elusive online journalist Scott King investigates the lead-up and aftermath of the killing, uncovering dark stories of demonic possession, and encountering a village torn apart by this unspeakable act.
And, as episodes of his Six Stories podcast begin to air, and King himself becomes a target of media scrutiny and the public’s ire, it becomes clear that whatever drove those two boys to kill is still there, lurking, and the campaign of horror has just begun…
Demon‘s a book in the Six Stories series. Of course it’s great. Need I say more?
Well, I probably should for the benefit of those of you who haven’t (yet) read the series. Six Stories follows investigative journalist Scott King, who hosts a true crime podcast named – yep, you guessed it – Six Stories. Each six part series of the podcast focuses on a different case and in each episode, Scott interviews a different person connected to it, allowing it to be seen from six unique perspectives.
Each book in the Six Stories series reads like the transcript of a podcast, with supplementary material, such as letters and news articles, thrown in. It’s an unusual narrative style, but it works so well. I listen to a lot of podcasts, so whenever I’m reading the latest book in the series, Scott is usually voiced in my head by whatever podcaster I’ve been listening to the most at that particular time. For Demon, Scott was voiced by Danny Robins of BBC4’s Uncanny and The Battersea Poltergeist podcasts. Consequently, reading the Six Stories series feels like listening to an actual podcast and it’s this sense of realism that hooks and reels me in.
I’ll move away from the narrative style and discuss the actual story that Demon tells. In Demon, Scott delves into the tragic case of Sidney Parsons, a twelve year old boy who was murdered by two other boys of the same age in 1995. As with all books in the Six Stories series, there’s a supernatural undercurrent running throughout Demon, with ‘demon’ stones, curses and demonic possession. The horror element is subtle, though. The supposedly paranormal happenings recounted by Scott’s interviewees aren’t in-your-face scary. Instead, the tales of footsteps on walls and unexplained voices are quietly unnerving. Obviously, I can only speak for myself, but I always find horror of the unnerving variety far more terrifying. Unnerving gets under your skin in a way that a big, brash scare doesn’t. A big, brash scare – be it a zombie bursting through a boarded up window or a possessed person suddenly spewing pea soup around the room – lasts as long as it takes for your heart rate to return to normal. Something unnerving gets under your skin and stays with you, bleeding into your psyche and rising to the forefront of your consciousness when you’re home alone or staring into the darkness of your bedroom on a sleepless night. The next time I’m home alone at night, my only company the faint hum of the Playstation and the occasional squeak of my rats, my ears will be straining to pick up footsteps skittering across the neighbours’ side of our shared wall or otherworldly singing drifting along the hallway.
Another great thing about the horror element being subtle is that it doesn’t detract from what is a dark, tragic and heartbreaking story. The fictional case of Sidney Parsons mirrors real life cases such as that of two year old James Bulger, who was murdered by two ten year old boys in 1993. If Wesolowski had written a story in which a demon had committed murder using two children as its tools, it would have trivialised the real life cases that he obviously drew inspiration from. People don’t have to be possessed by an otherworldly entity to do bad things; sometimes they do bad things just because there’s an opportunity to.
Out of all the Six Stories books so far, I think Demon is by far the most thought-provoking. It poses a series of uncomfortable questions to its readers – When a person convicted of a crime has served their sentence, do they deserve the same treatment and opportunities as other members of society? What’s more important: punishment or rehabilitation? Do perpetrators of heinous crimes, having served their sentence, deserve to be granted a new identity and, consequently, a new life? To what degree are external influences – such as upbringing and trauma – to blame for a perpetrator’s crimes? I don’t know about other readers, but I like novels that grip me and make me think. I like to come away from a book with more than I went into it with, even if it’s just an opinion on a certain topic when I didn’t have one before.
In summary, Demon is many things. It’s disturbingly dark, but achingly sad. It’s gripping and thought-provoking. It’s well-written and, unlike many novels of a similar genre, it handles its subject matter with empathy and sensitivity. If you haven’t yet read Demon, or any book in the series for that matter, I implore you to remedy that. The Six Stories series is hands down one of my favourite book series.