C. J. Tudor has delivered a compelling psychological suspense thriller that manages to split itself between two time lines effectively without tying herself, or the reader, in knots. Opening with a truly brilliant Prologue, The Chalk Man alternates between 1986 and 2016 and follows Eddie Adams, a typical 12-year-old kid and his gang of mates that live in the small tourist town of Alderbury. It’s here that relationships are forged, adolescence starts to take hold and secrets are kept. It’s also here where the body was found, the gang led there by a set of Chalk Men figures. The same set of figures that the kids use as a secret way of communicating with each other. Fast forward to 2016 and Eddie, now 42 is still in Alderbury, working as a teacher and trying to hide a drinking habit that’s starting to take control.
It’s the 30th anniversary of the infamous Alderbury murder, and one of the old gang, Metal Mickey (so-called because he used to wear a mouth brace), returns asking for Ed’s help in creating a TV show and book to tie in with the murder and the events leading up to it. Mickey never returns to his hotel that night and is found drowned…and that’s when the Chalk Men figures start to reappear!
This is a great setup to what’s an interesting whodunnit. There are several story threads running throughout the book, all of which reach some level of satisfying conclusion. C. J. Tudor’s writing style is incredibly readable, with a fast page turning style that has the knack of messing with the ‘one more chapter’ style of reader, she always manages to finish a chapter with some hook or revelation that forces you, willingly, onwards. She also has nailed the humour, the gang of kids back in 1986, I could very easily associate with. The name calling and daft jokes, I used to say exactly the same things to my mates. For a book that’s occasionally very dark, it was refreshing to have these moments of light where I genuinely laughed. What makes this even more impressive is that this is her debut novel! She has her own unique voice that can only get better and that’s something I’m looking forward to very much. It’s at this point I will mention the one thing that niggled me, and that was the unusual shift, only for a chapter, into what I’d say was horror. The book is absolutely a dark psychological thriller, the sudden step into horror was quite jarring. I’d be very interested to hear the authors reasoning for this.
C. J. Tudor is a name everyone should be looking out for. The Chalk Man is a fantastic debut from an exciting new voice in suspense fiction. Terrifying, scary, thoughtful, often funny and not afraid to touch on some sensitive subjects, The Chalk Man is very highly recommended.
Kendall Reviews was delighted to interview C. J. Tudor recently. You can read that here
Star Rating (out of 5): 4****