Title: The Chalk Man by C. J. Tudor
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program
A riveting and relentlessly compelling psychological suspense debut that weaves a mystery about a childhood game gone dangerously awry, and will keep readers guessing right up to the shocking ending
In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy 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 one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever 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 that his friends got the same message, 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.
Weaving back and forth in time between 1986 and 2016, The Chalk Man by C. J. Tudor is a suspense-laden, twist-filled tale of murder.
In 1986, Eddie Adams and his band of friends, Fat Gav, Metal Mickey Cooper, David “Hoppo” Hopkins and the lone girl in the group, Nicky Martin, are enjoying the last vestiges of summer before school resumes. Their days are filled with innocent pursuits as they ride their bikes, explore the nearby woods and write cryptic messages to one another in chalk. Interspersed with their idyllic fun are a few tragedies and bullying from an older peer but a grisly discovery in the woods becomes the defining moment that haunts them for years to come.
Now thirty years later, three of the gang still live in the same small town. Ed is a school teacher, Gav owns a pub and Hoppo is a plumber caring for his elderly mother. Ed remains deeply troubled by those long ago events and when Mickey comes back planning to write a book about that seminal summer, trouble quickly follows. Someone is sending them ominous letters and after one of them is murdered, Ed becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth about the current death and the troubling discovery from their youth.
Ed is a bit of an unreliable narrator as the novel flips back and forth between the past and present. Suffering from nightmares, fearing his father’s early onset Alzheimer’s will strike him and a propensity to drink too much, he tries to make sense of what he remembers from their childhood and how these long ago events might be connected to what is occurring now. Ed also regrets that he might have inadvertently influenced the investigation in the past and he would like nothing more than to find evidence that someone he greatly admired is, in fact, innocent of the crime many believe he committed. But after so much time has passed, will Ed find the proof he needs to unmask a clever killer?
The Chalk Man is an intricately plotted and riveting mystery. Each of the chapters ends on cliffhanger which ratchets up the tension in this clever debut by C. J. Tudor. The characters are remarkably well developed and incredibly life-like with all too relatable strengths and weaknesses. The novel moves at a brisk pace and comes to a jaw-dropping, twisty-turny conclusion. An absolutely brilliant mystery that I highly recommend to fans of the genre.