Michael Joseph | 2018 (11 January) | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book
In 1986 12-year-old Eddie and his four friends live in the small town of Anderbury. They entertain themselves as best as they can, avoiding the bullies when possible, worrying about their friend Nicky, the daughter of the vicar, who regularly has bruises on her arms. They set up a code – they contact each other with drawings of stick men, each of them using a different coloured chalk. But one day the chalk men lead them into the woods and there they discover a dismembered body.
Thirty years later, Eddie believes that he has left the past behind but when one of his four friends, long estranged from the others, turns up out of the blue, raking up the past, he’s not so sure. And then each of them receives a letter with a chalk man and soon one of them is dead. Eddie realises he has no choice but to face a past that refuses to let him go. He has to find out what really happened all those years ago.
The Chalk Man is a debut novel by C.J. Tudor and it is a fine achievement. As much horror as crime thriller, its atmosphere is second to none. This is a deeply moody and evocative mystery horror, moving between past and present, and filling both with a deep foreboding and chill. You can feel it in the woods, in the river, in the school, in the pub and the houses, in the fairground – everywhere in Anderbury is infused with a fear. It’s very effective indeed.
Eddie is a brilliant character and he is the heart of the novel. We see everything through his eyes and we feel his moods. But he remains elusive. He is trying to deal psychologically with the trauma of the past and with events of the successive years that have changed his relationship to his close childhood friends. At its core, this is a novel about friendship and one young man called Eddie. We learn about him as he learns about himself and it’s such a fascinating tale. And on the sidelines we have the lives of his four school friends and their parents and siblings. At times it is horrifying – there is are moments that shock in this book – and at other times it is desperately tragic. And adding to it is the creepy sense that something is watching.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Chalk Man. It’s a compulsive read. I read it until late into the night and finished it in a couple of days. It’s so hard to put down, the characters so hard to forget. I loved how the mystery developed and welcomed its surprises. Above all else, though, I loved Eddie, Gav and Nicky, and I was haunted by that beautiful girl we glimpse in the fairground through Eddie’s eyes at the beginning of the novel. This is a book that stays in the mind. It’s a fantastic debut novel and I look forward to seeing where C.J. Tudor will take us next.