Book Review: C. J. Tudor’s “The Chalk Man”

Wandering around Waterstones – just about the only reason I would leave my Pudding alone these days – I happened across this book. Well, a different book by the same author actually caught my eye first, “The Taking of Annie Thorne”, the striking origami-style paper-doll chain printed along the edges of the pages in vivid red compelling me to pick it up. As I tossed it around in my hands reading the blurb and reviews, I saw the proud banner stating “From the author of the Chalk Man”, which coincidentally stood right beside where it had once been situated on the shelf. For completeness sake, I was going to get them both anyway, but it helped that the reviews for The Chalk Man that decorated the front were from Lee Child (probably my Dad’s favourite author) and Stephen King, with the quote: “if you like my stuff, you’ll like this”, almost certainly hinting towards a creepy, keep-you-up-at-night read, but I already gathered as much from the blurb…

“None of us ever agreed on the exact beginning.
Was it when we started drawing the chalk figures, or when they started to appear on their own?Was it the terrible accident?
Or when they found the first body?”

The Plot…

Narrated in the first-person from the perspective of Eddie Adams, the mysterious tale is told either in the past – a 12-year-old Eddie recounting the events as they actually took place – or from the present day, depicting the viewpoint of a now 30-year-old Eddie, tormented by unsolved murder, unresolved tragic accidents, and – of course – The Chalk Man

One quote I particularly loved half-way through the book nicely compacts the plot that progresses…

“This particular route is dark, overgrown with tangled knots of lies and secrets, and full of hidden potholes. And along the way, there are chalk men.”

With a beautifully written, heart-racing plot, a creepy aura that sent shivers down my spine, several plot twists that kept me on the edge of my seat, and an incredibly eerie ending that I’m sure I’ll think about for the next couple of months, I really loved this book. I read it all in one day – partly because it’s a bank holiday and I’m legally bound to be incredible lazy on bank holidays – but mostly because it was enthralling, and I simply couldn’t put it down. As many theories as I conjured up in my head – and trust me, there were many – there was no way I could have predicted the trajectory of the storyline, which I always appreciate in any book. Even when I thought I knew who, what, where and when, the rug would be pulled out from under me.

The naivety of childhood, paralleled against a rather gloomy adulthood, working as a teacher, living in the same town, in the same house, only with a lodger as his remaining ‘proper’ friend, the structure served to demonstrate the age-old paradigm of life never quite working out how your younger self would have pictured it. Tudor actually makes frequent comments on how no one ever really grows up; adulthood simply masks the children we once were – a sentiment I can definitely see in the character of Eddie. Although a fully matured adult, when a letter arrives at his doorstep, an old friend visits unexpectedly, and nightmares return to his sleeping hours, the façade is peeled back, revealing a scared little boy once more. Occasionally, I forgot which perspective I was reading from: the child Eddie or the older Eddie, having to turn back the pages to check. The kind of trauma that rocked the stable lives of those small-town kids doesn’t just go away – and it caught up with Eddie once more, enticing him back into the past.

Towards the beginning of the book, I preferred the 1980s accounts where the thrilling and unnerving action took place, finding the present day Eddie to be a little dull in comparison (in the nicest way). However, it really wasn’t long before the current day Eddie’s tale rivalled the excitement of his former-self as he began to pull at the seams of the secrets that have haunted him for decades, unravelling the woven web of fear, lies, and chalk men that seemed to follow every horrific event, in order to uncover the truth.

I mentioned it briefly before, but I cannot emphasise enough how much I loved the ending. With a hint of ambiguity, it was one that not everyone would necessarily like, particularly those who like all the i’s to be dotted and all the t’s be crossed… but I really enjoyed how it left me shocked – completely shocked, my mouth open and everything, unable to quite take it in. After it had time to sink in, I was simply in awe. I would say for the next couple of hours, and probably every night before I go to sleep for the foreseeable future, I will be thinking about that ending. That’s incredible story-telling right there.

The Characters…

After the praise from Stephen King proudly broadcasted on the front confirming the similarities to his own style, it’s impossible not to comment on the noticeable comparisons. A group of young boys, many with distinctive characteristics and goofy nicknames, along with one young girl, flaming red hair and a stubborn attitude, all cycling around a small-town on their bikes, finding themselves at the heart of the most horrific of circumstances… it’s a familiar scene. But as I said, I wasn’t able to predict the plot of The Chalk Man at all. Perhaps some of the style at the onset owes a degree of its success to Stephen King (I did happen to read in the mini biography of the author at the back of the book that she grew up reading Stephen King novels), but all the credit goes to C. J. Tudor: it was a truly riveting story, with an incredibly well-thought-out plot, characters with depth and individuality, and a unique winding path, creepy and unsettling as it was.

I usually note a favourite character in this little sub-section, but now that I think about it, I don’t believe I had a favourite character… but I did love them all! As I said, each of them were distinctive and memorable, with clever identifiers to enable the reader to fully conjure them up in each setting with ease. Gun to my head, I think my favourite would be Eddie – the narration from his perspective, from 12 years-old right through the adulthood, encompassing his thoughts, feeling and fears, made me feel incredibly close to him, almost like a friend; part of the group.

Would I recommend?

This was a bit different to my normal genres – I don’t tend to read too many creepy “horror” style books in comparison to crime and thrillers, but in a way this was certainly crime and thriller, all the mystery and exhilarating investigation, but with an added glimmer of eeriness which enhanced my captivation and intrigue right to the very last page. I would recommend this book completely! I’m already looking forward to reading the other one I brought: “The Taking of Annie Thorne”.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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