Simon McDonald reviews the debut pyschological thriller by C.J. Tudor, The Chalk Man.
With The Chalk Man, C.J. Tudor has crafted a slick, razor-sharp novel of psychological suspense, which dangles the possibility of a supernatural influence on events sparingly enough to keep the story rooted in reality. This is a tense, cleverly-constructed thriller, and debut author Tudor deftly unspools the harsh realities of stale, childhood friendships, humankind’s capacity for debauchery, and the pain of confronting the past, even as she unravels her tautly-plotted mystery. The Chalk Man is book that will appeal as much to readers of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train as it will Stephen King enthusiasts looking for something to rival Misery, and provides some not-so-subtle winks at the grand-master’s It.
It opens in 1986, when Eddie Adams, a seemingly average twelve-year-old, who hangs out with his mates (using chalk messages as secret codes), does his best to outrun local bullies, and stay out of the lives of his parents (his mother is an abortion provider, and her father is a struggling freelance writer) finds the decapitated and dismembered body of a local girl. In the current day, 2016, Eddie is now an insular school teacher, who is contacted by someone from his past claiming he knows who really killed the girl. This alone might not be enough to instigate a personal crusade, but when chalk, and chalk symbols, start appearing around the quiet village Eddie has never moved away from, it’s clear someone has an agenda.
The Chalk Man flits between events in these timelines, exposing how Eddie’s various relationships have changed, painting a portrait of a man with secrets of his own, even as he seeks the the truth about what happened two decades ago. These chapters — short and sharp, which always end on cliffhangers — build momentum, and a propulsive page-turnability veteran suspense writers will envy. Readers will question the motives — even the sanity — of every character who appears in these pages, and that includes Eddie. Vitally, Tudor doesn’t attempt too many genre hijinks or red-herrings to bolster her narrative; her vision is clear, her storytelling is crystalline. The Chalk Man is tour de force, a blistering novel of psychological terror and menace.
The Chalk Man is available now.