Audiobook Review: The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Random House Audio (January 9, 2018)
Length: 9 hrs and 50 mins
Narrator: Euan Morton
I’m trying to add more mysteries and thrillers to my reading repertoire this year, so earlier this month when an opportunity to review The Chalk Man audiobook landed into my lap, I decided to take it. After all, you can hardly expect me to say no to a book that has been compared to the works of Stephen King and Stranger Things.
Described as a tale of psychological suspense and a murder mystery, this book is told through the eyes of protagonist Eddie Adams in a narrative divided between two timelines. In the summer of 1986, Eddie is a 12-year-old boy doing what all 12-year-olds do when school’s out and the weather’s nice: he and his friends Hoppo, Metal Mickey, Fat Gav, and Nicky spend their days playing in the park, riding their bikes, and exploring the woods around their quiet English village of Anderbury. Then Fat Gav receives a bucket of chalk for his birthday, which inspires the five of them to invent a way of communicating amongst themselves by using coded chalk drawings. Soon, all of them are using this system to leave each other secret messages—until one day, someone else uses their code to lead them to a grisly discovery.
Fast forward to 2016, and Eddie is a middle-aged man recalling the day thirty years ago when those unexplained chalk drawings pointed him and his friends to a dismembered body in the woods. He had thought the past was behind him, but then he receives a letter in the mail with a single stick figure drawn in chalk. The mystery deepens when he finds out that his friends also got the same message, reminding them all of what happened that summer. The whole town had thought the murder was solved, the killer identified, and the case put to rest—but the little chalk man suggests otherwise. Then one of Eddie’s friends, who claims to know who the real killer was, ends up dead. It seems the past will continue to haunt them all, unless Eddie can uncover the truth of what happened all those years ago.
This book had me engrossed from beginning to end. Like all debuts it had its flaws, but nevertheless, it’s hard to believe this was the author’s first novel, since she seemed to have such a firm grasp on all the touchstones of the genre. Atmosphere was something Tudor managed exceedingly well, creating a story filled with tension and suspense. The 1986 chapters painted a very authentic picture of the time period and of life in a small insular village where everyone knows each other’s business. As such, there were plenty of opportunities for side plots involving the townsfolk, as well as other elements all going on at the same time, and these were all blended perfectly together to add drama and intrigue to the main storyline. This kept the overall mystery unpredictable with carefully constructed false leads and surprising twists, resulting in a very entertaining experience.
This book was also a very detailed study on the character of Eddie Adams. We get to know him fairly well, seeing the events through his point of view as a child on the verge of adolescence, and then as a grown man. However, there’s a touch of the “unreliable narrator” about him too, especially when it becomes clear early on that Eddie is himself a bit of an oddity. Like many of the townspeople, our protagonist has plenty of his own secrets, and really, what 12-year-old boy is a paragon of honesty? As an adult, Eddie is more even-tempered and mature, though there’s no doubt that the events of that summer have affected him deeply, and we also get the sense of a man full of regret. Throughout the novel, there’s a recurring theme of inaction leading to misery, as well as unintentional acts leading to harm or misfortune, which might explain why the 42-year-old Eddie is so driven to find the truth, possibly because he feels the need to make up for past mistakes.
Engaging and intense, The Chalk Man is a book that will have you constantly wondering who, what, how, and why. Non-linear narratives can be tricky, but C.J. Tudor uses the alternating timelines to great effect, timing the twists and revelations perfectly to induce horror and suspense, creating an atmosphere of unease that is always creeping at the edge of your consciousness. Her debut is a psychological thriller worthy of the genre, well written with slow teases and cleverly dropped clues that gradually build up to a chilling finale. Highly recommended.
Audiobook Comments: Euan Morton was a great narrator, who pulled me into the story straight away. Between his reading and the author’s writing, this was an audiobook I couldn’t stop listening to and I finished it in two days.