Summer.1986. Twelve-year-old Eddie Adams and his tight group of friends spend their days biking around in a sleepy English village. To make their days interesting, as children often want to, they devise a secret code to leave each other messages only they can understand. They draw chalk stick figures. Each of them uses a different color. Then a chalk man in white—nobody in the group uses white chalk—leads them to a dismembered body of a girl who narrowly escaped death at a local fun fair. The prime suspect is a local school teacher, and the case is quickly closed.
Thirty years later, Eddie is a schoolteacher, living in the house he grew up in. He has put the past behind him and is quite content with his lonesome life—with only his lodger, Chloe, for company, and the occasional phone call or visit from his mum. Then, he gets a letter in the mail. It has a single chalk stick figure. Turns out, all his friends got the same message. They dismiss it as a prank till one of them ends up dead. Eddie realizes that he needs to find out what happened all those years ago to be able to really put the past behind him and begin afresh.
C. J. Tudor’s debut novel ‘The Chalk Man’ got a lot of attention when it was published in 2018. There were raving reviews in almost every media outlet, from The Guardianto Sunday Express. Writers like Stephen King, John Boyne (author of ‘The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas’), and A. J. Finn (‘The Woman in the Window’) were full of praise for it—calling it ‘utterly hypnotic’ and ‘completely engrossing’. Every other booktuber was also talking about it.
I had been looking for a copy for quite some time—browsing local bookstores and messaging online ones on Instagram. They had all run out of it. The book flew off the shelves, they said. It was that popular. Right before the lockdown, I finally found it at Pilgrims Bookstore in Thamel, Kathmandu. I had wanted to read The Chalk Man for so long that I actually put off reading it so as to always having something to look forward to. I would have probably kept it on my TBR pile for a while. But then the bleak times we are living in soon had me searching for an escape: I needed a fictional horror story to replace the real horror narrative in my head.
The Chalk Man was just the book I needed. Alternating between two timelines, the story is convincingly told. Each chapter makes you want to read the next. There are so many twists that each time you are convinced something is true, something else seems more likely. The characters are well crafted and Tudor’s simple writing style makes it easier for you to relate to all their contrasting emotions. I wouldn’t call it perfect or the best thriller/horror I’ve read. But Tudor was able to conjure some really vivid morbid scenes in my head and for that, I’ll highly recommend this book. I will also now search for the author’s other titles.
The Chalk Man
C. J. Tudor
Publisher: Penguin Books
Pages: 345, Paperback