Author: CJ Tudor
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor was truly an edge-of-the-seat thriller. The revelations kept popping right up to the last page. The author kept us peeling layer after layer. There was no respite at all. Some of the layers were so closely entwined that it was hard to tell where one ended and another began.
A girl’s body, minus the head, is found in the deep woods. Despite efforts, the mystery of who killed her remains unresolved, because of the missing head.
The story begins in summer in 1986. Eddie “Munster” Adams, and his friends, Fat Gav, Metal Mickey, Hoppo and Nicky are at the fair. An accident at the Waltzer ride brings Eddie face-to-face with Mr Halloran, an English teacher at his school, and Elisa, a girl he thinks of Waltzer Girl, because she suffers a terrible accident at the Waltzer ride.
When Fat Gav receives a tub of coloured chalk as a gift on his 12th birthday, the friends each take home chalks of a particular colour and use it to leave messages for each other.
And then one day the chalk figures appear on their own, directing them to the woods where they find the body of a young girl.
Meanwhile, Sean Cooper, the older brother of Mickey, who used to bully Eddie, turns up dead in the river, and Eddie begins to have nightmares. Before long, Eddie begins to see white chalk figures everywhere, figures filled with menace. Are they real? Or spillovers from his nightmares?
Sean’s death causes Mickey to drift apart from his friends. Nicky leaves town with her estranged mother.
Years later, in 2016, Mickey returns, wanting Eddie to collaborate with him on a book he wants to publish on the murder that had taken place 30 years ago. Mickey claims that he knows who killed the girl. And then he ends up dead. Police find a paper with a hangman drawn on it, and a piece of chalk in his possession. A replica of the paper that has been sent to him. Eddie wonders if the nightmares will start anew.
The story is written mostly in the first person past tense of Eddie in 1986 and present tense point of view in 2016. The two timelines are presented in alternate chapters.
The plot of the story is revealed very slowly. The disclosure itself comes so slowly that you might almost miss its significance if you aren’t paying attention.
Halfway through the book, I found myself still gingerly feeling my way through, wondering who was the girl whose body had been found, why the religious good didn’t seem so, and why the godless, denounced as evil by the religious, seemed to fumble on. Were the good completely good, and the bad completely bad?
For the child, Eddie, it is all confusing. His mother’s clinic conducts abortions, which are denounced by the anti-abortionists, but the protestors, speaking on the side of the good, are violent and vicious.
Eddie is a complicated character. As a child, he likes to collect things worth collecting and things that he thinks no one will miss. A habit he takes into adulthood.
Eddie has a lopsided worldview that does make sense. Often, what comes with age is not wisdom but intolerance.
What shapes us is not always our achievements but our omissions. Not lies; simply the truths we don’t tell.
And That’s how it is when you’re kids. You can let things go. It gets harder as you get older.
Kids’ worries are bigger because we’re smaller.
Being an adult is only an illusion. When it comes down to it I’m not sure any of us ever really grow up. We simply grow taller and hairier. ... Beneath the veneer of adulthood, beneath the layers of experience we accrue as the years march stoically onwards, we are all still children, with scraped knees and snotty noses, who need our parents. . . and our friends.
Your world shrinks as you grow older. You become Gulliver in your very own Lilliput.
Eddie’s humour also is subtle but strong. When he tells the lodge receptionist about Mickey losing his key card, he says, I wait for the significance of this to dawn. Moss grows around my feet. Glaciers form and melt.
Having had a beloved grandmother and aunts and uncles succumb to Alzheimer’s Disease, I could sense Eddie’s pain when he speaks about his father, a freelance writer, suffering from Alzheimer’s. He says, When the illness started to eat away at his mind, the first thing it swallowed was the thing he loved the most. His words.
Of Gwen, Hoppo’s mum, who also suffers from dementia, Thin, I think, that fabric between realities. Maybe minds aren’t lost. Maybe they just slip through and find a different place to wander.
He also talks about First losing the objects, then losing the names for the objects. It’s my biggest worry too.
In fact, that was the bit I could relate to. I do a lot of crosswords and read voraciously, hoping to keep my mind sharp, hoping to keep the fear at bay.
Mr Halloran, nicknamed Mr Chalkman by the kids at school, is Eddie’s bogeyman. He is also his English teacher. Being an albino, Mr Halloran’s appearance causes people to look at him strangely. His words to Eddie are, Karma. What you sow, you reap. You do bad things and they’ll come back eventually and bite you on the backside.
For a debut, this one is straight-out fabulous. My mind is still spinning. I can’t wait for her next one.