Book Review: "The Chalk Man" by C.J. Tudor (2018)
What a complete and utter joy it has been to find a book that fucked up my schedule. I had shit planned, and it didn't get done. That's a beautiful thing. It's downright sexy.
I don't read as much as I used to. There was a time when I faithfully kept (at least) 5 books going at a time- nightstand, bathroom, lunchbag, car, & coffee table. The lack of reading time has been one of the aspects of my life that pisses me off the most right now. It's like I can feel myself getting dumber by the minute. If Charles Barkley were here he'd say "that's turrible, Stu!".
The Chalk Man is the debut novel from English author C.J. Tudor. My opening line probably tells you that I'll definitely be picking up her next one. It's an auspicious first novel that takes the cliché of murder in the small, English village and turns it upside down while showing clear homage for Stand By Me.
The story moves skillfully between 2 periods of time- 1986 & 2016. Childhood friends Eddie, Hoppo, Metal Mickey, Fat Gav, & Nicky are inseparable despite the conflicting lives of their parents. Eddie's Mom is the doc at the local abortion clinic, Nicky's Dad is the local vicar, & Metal Mickey's brother Sean is the town bully. There are some nice echoes of Stephen King's It in here as well. The dynamic between the characters is believable and familiar. This is the English version of how my friends and I treated each other.
The gang stumbles on the body of a dismembered local girl thanks to a series of chalk drawings (much like the messages they leave each other in code) that lead the way to the grisly tableau. Their lives and the harmony of the town are shattered by the murder and the other intertwined local tragedies. All of these events are tied together, & C.J. Tudor shows a skill far beyond that of a "rookie novelist" that leaves you tearing through the pages to find out how. There are a lot of pots on various burners here.
I found the adult chapters to be equally compelling. All of their lives have been altered by the murder, both the ones who stayed in Anderbury and the ones who left. Characterization is critical to a story like this, & you will cozy right up to these characters (or want to kill them). There are no real throwaway characters; there's a part for everyone to play. Everyone has a ghost who haunts them.
By the time you get to the end of the lean & mean 280 pages you'll have ventured so many guesses that you still won't see it coming. The fact that it is done without being overkill impressed me greatly. The dual underlying themes of the terror or losing your grip due to Alzheimer's/Dementia/mental illness and the kleptomaniacal need to take something and make it your own are never heavy-handed but walk well hand-in-hand.
I'm impressed, more so than I have been by a new writer in a long time. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for the next one in hopes of disproving the theory of the "sophomore slump". Hell of a good read.