Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Chalk Man

The Chalk Man by C. J. Tudor
Crown Publishing Group: 1/9/18
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781524760984

The Chalk Man by C. J. Tudor is a very highly recommended debut novel of psychological suspense. Read this novel.

The year is 1986 and 12-year-old Eddie Adams is close with his group of friends: Fat Gav, Metal Mickey, Hoppo, and Nicky (the lone girl in the group). They spend their time hanging out in the playground and riding their bikes around Anderbury, the English town where they all live. They are growing up and this is the first year they get to attend the fair by themselves. At the same time, they are still children who invent a secret message system to use between themselves with sidewalk chalk. It is also a time of controversy in the town. This is the year that marks great traumatic events for the whole group, the most shocking being the chalk messages that lead them to a dismembered body.

Thirty years later. in 2016,  Ed is a teacher and still lives in the house where he grew up in Anderbury. He drinks too much and has a slight crush on his younger boarder, Chloe. While he vividly recalls the traumatic events of 1986, he is not eager to revisit them. When he gets a letter in the mail with a single chalk stick figure and then Mickey returns to town claiming that he is going to write a book and he knows who the murderer was, Ed knows that he needs to finally figure out what happened thirty years ago.

Excellent debut novel! This is one of those perfect novels with a first person narrative that alternates between the past and present and captures young people on the cusp of adolescence handling some things with which even adults struggle.  There are some stories that succeed in doing this - Stephen King's Stand by Me (The Body) comes immediately to mind, as well as a hint of Robert McCammon's Boy's Life. There is a loss of innocence that occurs in The Chalk Man and is experienced by this group of young people as they come of age. The characters all have things they are ashamed of and secrets they try to keep hidden and private. What happens during 1986 has lifelong consequences for the group.

The writing in The Chalk Man is outstanding. This is a novel I had a hard time putting down once I started reading. The plot in both timelines will vie for your attention and hold it with equal vigor. The chapters are as compelling in the present as in the past. The narrative is clever, and moves smoothly and quickly. The mystery is unsettling, the suspects indecisive, and the mood can be dark and sinister. There are some hard topics covered; lies, abuse, and prejudices are eventually revealed. The twists caught me by surprise.

All the characters are well developed and fleshed out. Tudor takes full advantage here of the dual time line, covering events that happened in the intervening years and, well, just the trials and tribulations of thirty years. They had to handle a lot as adolescents, but adults have to handle some tough situations too - aging parents, accidents, stress. Having the characters developed over both timelines is a plus here. With the gift of the well-written dual timelines, Tudor can out some things that would have been hidden from the children and reveal the bigger picture.

If you enjoy mysteries, read The Chalk Man. Read it, and you will thank me later.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the Crown Publishing Group for TLC Book Tours.  


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