I’ve never read a book that could be considered in the ‘horror’ genre. I love to watch a horror movie, but my preference for books lies more with crime fiction, particularly a good mystery. ‘The Chalk Man‘ borders on both, providing some extremely mysterious passages in an otherwise very creepy narrative.
The premise for ‘The Chalk Man’ is quite simple really. Author C.J. Tudor tells the story from the perspective of Eddie Adams across two different time periods – 1986, where Ed was a 12-year-old boy growing up in a small town, and 2016, where Ed is a teacher still plagued by the events of his childhood. Tudor constantly switches back and forth between the two time periods, feeding us more and more information about events and constantly keeping us guessing as to the next steps.
The main events of 1986 are this: A young girl is found brutally dismembered in the woods outside a small town. A group of young boys (including Ed), who use chalk drawings to secretly communicate with each other, navigate life through this small town and are directly impacted by the young girl’s death. The adults of the town have secrets, and are willing to do anything to keep them.
In the main events from 2016, Ed receives a visit from one of his friends from the past, and is less than impressed by the purpose of the visit. Ed receives a new flatmate, with secrets of her own. More and more detail comes to light about exactly what went on in that small town in 1986, and Ed is determined to understand the truth.
The use of the chalk drawings as a plot device is what attracted me to this book. It’s original, creepy and serves it’s purpose well to an extent. To me, when I first picked up the book I was really expecting a ‘whodunnit’ style crime fiction book, and I guess to Tudor’s credit, the fact that it wasn’t this simple has to be somewhat admired. Unfortunately, that’s where the book also failed to really capture my attention.
Instead of building on what could have been a very solid foundation (girl is murdered and protagonist is given clues through creepy chalk men drawings appearing), we’re instead taken through a whirlwind of plot twists, red herrings and sub-plots to tell an overworked story. By the end, the whole thing is a bit of a mess and it ends in a fairly predictable and outlandish climax that was definitely a let-down.
There were some spectacular moments which should have been more of a focus. The paranormal and hallucinogenic nature of Ed’s dreams would have been a much more interesting road to travel on, yet it’s used fleetingly and in the end serves no real purpose to Ed’s character arc. We’re also supposed to believe in supporting characters where their story constantly changes, and instead of feeling like they are multi-dimensional, the characters just come off as forgetful or idiotic.
The obvious nods to Stephen King’s It and Stand By Me are apparent throughout, which can be a little distracting. The similarities between the stories are too hard to ignore, and by the end the story feels more like fan fiction than an original piece of work.
Overall, a disappointing read – but not disappointing enough for me not to keep an eye on Tudor in the future, as I’m positive there’s enough good qualities in this book to keep me interested in what’s to come from her next.