There is something about the way that C J Tudor writes that draws me so completely into her stories. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. Although I gallop through the pages in a matter of a few sittings, I feel as though I have spent an age in the places she describes, with the characters she introduces. I read The Taking of Annie Thorne over four days, fitting it into the gaps allowed by a full time job and family life, yet I feel as though I know Arnhill, have lived there myself amongst these people.
I am new to C J Tudor’s work, you may have seen my review of The Chalk Man just the other side of this past weekend, but already I am a committed fan. Her stories are consuming, drawn into the darkness you lose sense of everything else and focus only on your surroundings, her words. For me that’s the sign of quality, you inhabit a book and the real world slips away. Anything could be happening around you but you are oblivious, reacting only to the events unfolding in the turning pages you hold.
The opening prologue tells you that this is going to be an unsettling read, not just the violence but the familial setting that it has happened within, the relationship between a mother and child so utterly broken. How? Why? Joe Thorne is pulled back to his childhood home of Arnhill by an anonymous message, “It’s happening again”. His little sister Annie disappeared 25 years ago aged 8, but it was only when she returned two days later that the horror really began. Something had changed.
Arnhill isn’t pleased to see Joe again, there is too much history, too many secrets. It is a tight knit former mining community in north Nottinghamshire and outsiders are not welcome. Joe might have been one of them once but he gave that up when he left, Arnhill people don’t leave. Thorne himself is a hard guy to like, a gambler and a drinker who has lost enough times to have become an island of self-interest, but his unreliable narration is compelling.
In 2017 he takes up a position as a teacher at the local school. Interrupting his investigation to find out who has contacted him and dragged up the past are flashbacks to 1992, when a 15 year old Joe was part of a typically uneasy teenage gang, led by the local bully and consisting of a group seeking either reflected glory or a “safe” place to avoid the direct focus of his tyranny. As we start to understand the mystery of Arnhill we have to work out who to trust, what really happened. After all “The past isn’t real. It is simply a story we tell ourselves. And sometimes, we lie.” and in typical Tudor style the twists keep coming so that we never feel on solid ground
The Taking of Annie Thorne is a fantastic follow up to The Chalk Man, taking us deeper into a supernatural horror whilst retaining the depth and absorption in its storytelling. You can set the book aside but ‘Abbie-Eyes’ stays with you and in these first few weeks of 2020 C J Tudor has cemented herself securely into my favourite authors list. It was a risk when I decided to book myself onto the launch of her third novel at Waterstones Nottingham later this week without having read any of her books, but I needn’t have worried, Tudor lives up to her hype. She has delivered two captivatng novels and I’m very much looking to the third.
One night, Annie went missing. Disappeared from her own bed. There were searches, appeals. Everyone thought the worst. And then, miraculously, after forty-eight hours, she came back. But she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, say what had happened to her. Something happened to my sister. I can’t explain what. I just know that when she came back, she wasn’t the same. She wasn’t my Annie. I didn’t want to admit, even to myself, that sometimes I was scared to death of my own little sister.