The Chalk Man by C. J. Tudor

… a relentlessly compelling psychological debut novel with a hint of Stephen King.

J. Tudor is a British author who grew up in Nottingham and still lives there with her partner and their younger daughter. She has written since childhood but started doing it professionally in her thirties. Before that she had various jobs. She says that she always liked the darker things and the more mysterious and is a huge fan of Stephen King, who is going to be mentioned more than once in this review.

About the book: It is 2016. Eddie is a fully grown man who works as a teacher. He is usually  not one to live in the past and actually tries not to think too much about it but one simple letter changes everything. It contains one single chalk stick figure and as Eddie soon learns, he is not the only one to have received this message – all of his friends did too.

The letter forces him to process what happened back in 1986 when he and his friends were just kids.  In the sleepy British village where many of them, including Eddie, still live. The group would spend their days in their bikes, always on the look out for their next adventure or project.

To communicate with each other they drew different kinds of chalk men on the street in front of their houses, each member of the gang their own colour. One day these drawings led them to a dismembered body, except none of the kids drew any chalk stick figure that day.

Eddie realizes that in order to save himself, he has to figure out what really happened all those years ago.

The Chalk Man is really a gripping novel. It creates the same kind of atmosphere as a Stephen King book. The kind that leaves you feeling slightly unsafe in your own bed and gives you shivers down  your spine. You keep reading and reading and you know you have to get up in four hours but you just can not bring yourself to put the book away because curiosity wins.

This is partly because of  the tension created by perfectly executed alternation of flashbacks and the present day but mostly thanks to the twists that will shock even the most hard-hearted reader. And trust me on this, whenever you think that you finally understand what is actually going on, you are most likely wrong.

As much as I love this novel, for me, there are a few too many similarities to Stephen King’s novel It. Let’s just start with the only girl in the group of friends, Nicky, a redhead who lives with her abusive father and serves as Eddie’s romantic interest. Reminds me of Beverly Marsh. There is also the typical outdoor project. In It the kids build a dam in the Barrens, while in The Chalk Man it is a den in the woods. And there are many more small similarities, such as the confrontation with bullies that ends in Derry in a rock fight and in C. J. Tudor’s novel in a brick fight. And in both novels two fathers fight at a funeral  and accidentally smash the coffin open.

Though the parallels with It can be distracting, there is still something original in it that sets its own tone and the plot really is so gripping that nothing else matters.

All in all The Chalk Man is an outstanding debut novel that sets really high expectations for C. J. Tudor’s next book.

Vivien Lewerenz

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