In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.
In 2016, Eddie is fully grown and thinks he’s put his past behind him, but then he gets a letter in the mail containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank–until one of them turns up dead. That’s when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.
It’s hard to believe that The Chalk Man by C. J. Tudor is a debut; it’s even harder to believe that it’s not considered horror. Though the book focuses primarily on a whodunnit sort of plot, it borrows heavily from my favorite genre. Certain elements of The Chalk Man are downright grisly, which is a welcoming change from many of the mystery books I tend to read. Then again, I love gore and that’s no secret.
The Chalk Man bounces flawlessly between past and present as the story of an unfortunate girl’s murder unravels. Normally, I find back and forth plots confusing. Tudor approaches this not by labeling each shift as a new chapter, but by naming the chapters with the year they take place. This weaving of the plot creates a sense of urgency, with each chapter ending on the cusp of a new discovery. When all the cards are on the table, nothing is as it seems. The popular, snarky definition of the word “assume” definitely plays a heavy-handed role in this book and Tudor pulls it off well.
Creating complex characters appears to be another forte of Tudor’s. By complex, I mean that his cast, much like the plot, has as several layers to it. In some cases, this can make a story difficult to comprehend, but Tudor exercises some caution in giving any of his characters too many traits.
The Chalk Man is a quick, entertaining read which is always a plus. The constant action kept the book from becoming a chore and thus I was able to devour it in a few days. I’d like to thank Penguin’s First to Read program for providing me with a free copy of this book. This review reflects my own opinion.