I read ‘The Chalk Man’, C. J. Tudor’s debut novel, during the Covid-19 lockdown. It was just the distraction I needed to get my mind off the real-life horror we were facing at that time. Tudor’s writing was smooth and she was great at weaving in twists and turns in an otherwise simple narrative. I don’t usually read horror but The Chalk Man had me interested in the genre. I especially wanted to read more of Tudor’s works. I bought two of her other books on a whim: ‘The Taking of Annie Thorne’ and ‘The Burning Girls’. I read The Taking of Annie Thorne and now I’m wondering if I should exchange The Burning Girls for something else at the bookstore. Thank God Ekta Books grants me that privilege.
Don’t get me wrong, the book wasn’t a complete waste of time. It just wasn’t very interesting. If you watch horror movies or read such books, you’ll easily be able to tell how things will eventually unfold. The scenes also feel a bit clichéd. The book seems to have been written on a template—there are familiar acts and incidents. It’s all very déjà vu-ish. I mean, does horror always mean black bugs scuttling about, entire rooms painted with blood or big writings on the wall? Do things always have to be outlandish to be spooky? The plot was promising but the author stuck to the usual route of jump scares with creepy dolls, giggling children, and dark dungeons.
The Taking of Annie Thorne starts with the disappearance of an eight-year-old girl. She returns two days later, but she isn’t the same person. She smells peculiar and her eyes have a menacing glow. Twenty-five years later, her brother Joe returns to the small mining town of Arnhill in Nottingham and takes up a job as a teacher at the local school. Joe is a heavy gambler and is running away from debt collectors. But that’s not just it. He is forced to return home when he receives an email saying, ‘I know what happened to your sister and it’s happening again.’
Readers have compared Tudor’s works to Stephen King’s. So, here’s the thing, if you have read King’s books, you know exactly what to expect. Maybe King’s books are Tudor’s templates after all. Initially, as the dialogues are witty, Joe comes across as daring and charming but, after a while, when everything he says comes with a punchline, it feels scripted and fake. Joe becomes a fictional character rather than a person who is actually going through all the things mentioned in the book, a person you feel like you know, and that kills the joy of reading.
Two and half stars
The Taking of Annie Thorne
C. J. Tudor
Publisher: Penguin Books
Pages: 358, Paperback