There has been quite a buzz around C J Tudor recently with her third novel, The Other People, due for release on 23rd January. Given the strong reviews and the author’s connection to my home city of Nottingham it felt like time for me to get on board and start reading her work. With a reference from Stephen King on the front cover of The Chalk Man, her first novel, maybe I should have had an inkling of what to expect but it turns out those friendly, twinkling eyes on her profile picture are actually a gateway to darkness!
The story starts with some grim events in the village of Anderbury in 1986 and from there it alternates chapters between then and 2016. Eddie a slightly awkward 12 year old, along with his friends, finds a dead body chopped into pieces in the woods. Ed, now a 42-year-old teacher who has inherited his childhood home and continues to be haunted by the mystery in his past. The different time periods give the book a nice pace as they deliver different insights into the characters and events.
The 1986 timeline is filled with childhood nostalgia, especially as I am a similar age to the gang of Eddie, Fat Gav, Hoppo, Metal Mickey and Nicky. Their early teen antics and cultural references were often familiar for me and I found myself quickly drawn into their group and engaged with their story and relationships. Things take a turn when the gang all receive a message in their secret code – chalked men drawn on their driveways – to meet up at the park, but none of the group left the message or the trail of figures that leads them to a body in the woods.
There was a genuine sense of tension throughout the twisting story and although there are hints of where it is going there is a complexity that has you constantly reconfiguring the dots and reassessing what has really happened. How reliable is the narrator and what should we make of his interpretation of both people and events? Although I raced through the book, completely absorbed by it, the writing wasn’t rushed. The story took hold of me and seeped into my consciousness so that even when I had to pull myself away from reading, it remained there on the edge of my vision, a constant companion.
I was completely hooked from start to finish and even after the grand finale the ripples of ending continued to hit home. The final scene was completely unexpected, even though on reflection there was a clue earlier on, and left a sinister edge to the whole narrative. A combination of coming of age novel and murder mystery that blurs the lines of reality The Chalk Man is an engrossing debut novel and I look forward to quickly moving on to C J Tudor’s second book The Taking of Annie Thorne.
It was only meant to be a game . . .
None of us ever agreed on the exact beginning.
Was it when we started drawing the chalk figures, or when they started to appear on their own?
Was it the terrible accident?
Or when they found the first body?