Michael Joseph | 2019 (21 February) | 346p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book
Joe Thorne has returned to the Nottinghamshire village of Arnhill years after he left it. He has an interview at the local school which he wishes to join as a teacher. His references are impeccable. He would be the perfect choice. Indeed, the Head is pleased to give him the job. But Joe has history with this school, just as he does with the village. This was where he grew up. He knows the parents of many of the children he’ll be teaching. The same behaviour can be seen. Personalities recur through the generations. It’s almost as if the past is repeating itself.
Years ago, Joe’s little sister Annie went missing. The whole village searched. Two days later she turned up again but she wasn’t the same. She wasn’t Joe’s Annie. She terrified him. And now the same thing has happened to another child. Joe has come back to make this end.
Last year’s debut novel by The Chalk Man was such a memorable, creepy and menacing read, combining mystery with horror, a winning combination in my eyes. This is now followed by another stand alone novel, The Taking of Annie Thorne, which builds on the atmosphere of what came more and, in my opinion, the result is even more successful. Once more we have the fright associated with children who in some way have strayed from what is right, even what is real. It’s almost classic Stephen King nightmare territory and you can see why he’s such a fan of C.J. Tudor’s books. As King says, if you like his books, then you’ll like this. He is right.
Joe Thorne is our narrator and he’s most certainly as unreliable as you’d expect. But it’s easy to warm to him, especially as the true horror of what happened all those years ago emerges. It all happens bit by bit. We know that Joe has arrived in Arnhill with an agenda so we’re on our guard from the outset but I love the way that so much of the story is revealed through wonderful character portraits. As Joe gets to know the children in his class, he’s reminded of their parents and this is such an effective way of introducing flashbacks to a past that Joe thought he’d escaped.
Little here can be trusted. People lie or they deny the past. But even the rules of reality can’t be relied upon. This is horror after all. But it’s almost more psychological than anything else. The powers of a child’s imagination fuels this novel but sometimes the monster might be real and it haunts them still.
The setting of Arnhill is so well created. It’s a mining community that has lost its reason for being. The mine has closed. More than that, the mine has been eradicated. There seems so little reason to stay and yet some of the children that Joe knew all those years ago seem unable to leave. What ties these people to this unhappy place?
The Taking of Annie Thorne is a wonderfully chilling tale of a village haunted by its horrible past. The atmosphere is one of menace and evil, an evil that is accompanied by such a rank and festering stench. I love this kind of horror. In settings such as this, with characters like these, it’s almost as if this horror could exist. It feels real and believable. This is a compelling novel to read, particularly, I think, by lamplight, late into the night.
The Chalk Man