The backcover blurb mentions the notion of sleepless nights after reading this book. I love crime fiction and can generally cope with the idea of fictional serial killers and psychopaths, but never read (or watch) horror. I’m plagued enough by my own nightmarish failings and whatifs…. I don’t need something else keeping me awake at night. 🙂
However… (for me anyway) this wasn’t that sort of book. To my relief there wasn’t really a sense of menace or foreboding, rather a surprising number of secrets and stories-not-told, and I read it in an afternoon.
The Chalk Man
by C.J. Tudor
Published by Michael Joseph, Penguin
on January 2nd 2018
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense, Psychological Thriller
In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.
In 2016, Eddie is fully grown and thinks he's put his past behind him, but then he gets a letter in the mail containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank--until one of them turns up dead. That's when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.
This is Tudor’s debut novel and I was impressed I was impressed by her writing. I suspect it wasn’t her aim but I found myself pausing on a few occasions – contemplating the thoughts Ed was sharing and often relating more than I’d like.
But still, a strange feeling washes over me. A sense of discomfort. Not guilt, exactly. Its twin. Responsibility. For all of it.
I’m sure Chloe would tell me this is because I’m the sort of insular, self-obsessed man who takes everything on himself and believes that the world revolves around him. That’s true, to an extent. Being solitary can lead to introspection, or thinking about the past. On the other hand, maybe I haven’t given enough time to introspection, or thinking about the past. p 195
Interestingly I’d made an assumption (not even knowing the author’s gender) that the central character would be female. I’m not sure why that was and am fairly certain I could over-ponder that assumption for days (at least), but it isn’t of course. The story is told in first person by Ed (Eddie) switching predominantly between the two time periods – 1986 and now (2016). He’s 12 when we first meet him, 42 now – a cash-challenged workaholic teacher, with a predilection for booze and cynicism.
Though it’s neither here nor there, the 1986 chapters are actually told in past tense… so Ed interjects a few comments and thoughts as he shares the events of that time.
If our world was a snow globe, it was the day some casual god came along, shook it hard and set it back down again. Even when the foam and flakes had settled, things weren’t the way they were before. Not exactly. They might have looked the same through the glass but, on the inside, everything was different. p 3
I kinda guessed the whodunnit part of this book, however… there are a number of other twists. And… Tudor ensures we readers remain suspicious of Ed – memories he shouldn’t have, his sleepwalking, his secrets and the fact that so many of his desires come to pass. And then there’s his palpable sense of regret.
My life has been defined by the things I didn’t do. The things I didn’t say. I think it’s the same for a lot of people. What shapes us is not always our achievements but our omissions. Not lies; simply the truths we don’t tell. p 168
I suspect I’ve become tainted (inured) by my reading habits, but I’d actually expected a little more ‘evil’ in the now. And I guess I don’t just mean body dismemberment, rather the sense of menace I mentioned earlier. I wasn’t really on the edge of my seat, nervous about what was coming next. I was however, keen to learn exactly what happened 30yrs earlier and how it impacted on the group now.
In the book Ed refers to the ‘cliffhanger’, remembering the Doctor Who of his childhood and the fact that the ‘resolution’ at the beginning of a new episode was nowhere as fulfilling as the questions posed by the cliffhanger in the episode before. He talks about plot holes and ‘cheats’ employed by directors to keep viewers in the dark. And for me there were a couple of plot holes here. Or perhaps I just missed the ‘reveal’ itself amongst the number of revelations at the end. That aside, however, this is a great debut and I look forward to more from the English author.
The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor will be published in Australia by Penguin Random House and available from 2 January 2018.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.