Thursday, 1 February 2018

Audiobook Review: THE CHALK MAN by C.J. Tudor

Author: C.J. Tudor
Andrew Scott & Asa Butterfield
January 2018
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

What shapes us is not always our achievements but our omissions. Not lies; simply the truths we don’t tell."

Book Description:

In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy little English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code; little chalk stick figures they leave for each other as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing will ever be the same.

In 2016, Eddie is fully grown, and thinks he's put his past behind him. But then he gets a letter in the mail, containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out his other friends got the same messages, they think it could be a prank... until one of them turns up dead. That's when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.

Expertly alternating between flashbacks and the present day, The Chalk Man is the very best kind of suspense novel, one where every character is wonderfully fleshed out and compelling, where every mystery has a satisfying payoff, and where the twists will shock even the savviest reader. 

My musings:

WOW! WTH did I just read?! I am still weak-kneed from the final revelation and at the same time relieved and sad that I finally got my answers, and may – given time – be able to creep outside in the dark again to lock up my chooks without expecting some sinister figure peering at me from the dark trees. Now here, people, is a REAL psychological thriller, one that messed with my mind from the opening sentence until the very last page. At times I felt so clueless that I wasn’t sure I would ever get my answers.

Tudor has really nailed it with this novel, from the “then” and “now” setting, to the creepy details that flow so effortlessly into the narrative, never too explicit to cross the line, but insinuating horrors that seep into your nightmare as they do into Eddie’s. I am not going to delve into the plot at all, as this is one you should dive in blindly, trusting fate to spit you out whole at the other end (no guarantees!). But I can safely say that the story revolves around an old murder, with the body of a dismembered girl discovered in the woods as the book opens with its chilling prologue. At the time of the murder, Ed (Eddie) Adams was twelve and on the brink of teenagehood and change. Whilst he still loved hanging out with his gang of friends – Hoppo, Fat Gav, Metal Micky and Nicky – a tragic accident at the fairground that summer and the arrival of their new teacher Mr Halloran (“the Chalk Man”) changed Eddie’s life forever in ways he could not have foreseen.

Told in a dual time frame from the POV of 12-year-old Eddie and 42-year-old Ed, the book seamlessly switches back and forth in time in ways only few authors can achieve. Like Tudor herself, I was a teenager in the eighties, and her narrative brought back a lot of memories, good and bad, which immersed me deeply into the storyline. But even without that connection, it was impossible not to get drawn into the mystery surrounding the body in the woods, its ominous presence announced by chalk men marking the way. It reminded me of a game we used to play at school, of drawing stick figures as messages to be secretly passed around the classroom to pass the time in the most boring of lessons, often featuring gruesome deaths as they plunged off mountain peaks or were eaten by stick-sharks. We didn’t have facebook then, so had to resort to more primitive ways of communication ;)

I loved the way Tudor presents her main protagonist. The innocent voice of 12-year-old Eddie telling of his adventures with his friends, and yet also hinting at the savagery of the childhood gang, with a Lord-of-the-Flies vibe suggesting that something darker is lurking beneath their games in the woods. On the brink of adulthood but still children at heart, the group are propelled into a cruel and unforgiving adult world through circumstances out of their control, which changes the dynamics of their friendhips forever. Don’t we all remember that bittersweet time, with one foot in childhood and one wanting to boldly step over the threshold into adult life? And then there is grown-up Eddie, who may have shed the last syllable of his childhood name, but not the history that still haunts him. There is something slightly off about Ed in ways that raised goose bumps on the back of my neck, and I was forever wondering if I could truly trust him.

¾ into the book I still had no idea where we were headed, with sinister images of chalk men marching through my dreams (this will teach me to read late into the night). But of course it all came together beautifully in the end, a denouement so clever and  so chilling with its final reveal that this book will stay with me for a long time to come. Brilliant! It ticked all the boxes for me, so if you are a lover of dark, clever psychological thrillers that really live up to their genre, this is a must-read!

If this was CJ Tudor’s debut novel, I am trembling in anticipation what she will come up with next! A great book, the best I have read this year so far and one that will appeal to male and female audiences alike. Do yourself a favour and get a copy today!

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