‘None of us ever agreed on the exact beginning . . . was it when we started drawing the chalk figures, or when they started to appear on their own. Was it the terrible accident? Or when they found the first body?’
Eerie, unpredictable, and frightfully addictive – The Chalk Man by C J Tudor is one of the most refreshingly unique thrillers we’ve read in ages. Although it arises from a long tradition of horror writing – think the stylised storytelling of 1970s juggernauts Stephen King and Clive Barker, minus the supernatural elements – Tudor’s own brand of writing is terrifying.
The novel begins when young Eddie witnesses a freak accident at a carnival, causing a gruesome death to occur right in front of him. Not long afterwards, Eddie’s best friend Fat Gav receives a birthday present with no card or name. Inside the innocuously wrapped gift is a box of chalk sticks, and although it’s a rather curious present, no one thinks much about them.
Jumping twenty years into the future, we see Eddie and his mates as adults haunted by the nightmarish tragedies that happened in their childhood, horrible memories that were dormant until their friend Mickey comes to town. All of a sudden Eddie receives a letter. There’s no writing. But the message is very clear. A stick figure with a noose around it’s neck, and a single piece of white chalk.
As kids, Eddie and his friends started communicating with secret messages written in chalk. Each friend had their own colour of chalk, so they knew who had left the message. But no one ever used white.
From there, the story dances between Eddie’s life in 1986 and 2006 through alternating chapters, each ending with a clever hook or plot twist that’ll keep you reading.
Murders and disappearances increase, both in 86 and 06, and Eddie is visited in the dead of the night on the fringes of consciousness and sleep by the hallucinatory Chalk Man. The only proof of his existence is the trail of chalk drawings he leaves behind. And Eddie slowly comes to realise that the shared secret he formed with the Chalk Man in 1986 may be the very reason why his neighbourhood is being haunted again, twenty years later. . .
It must be said that Tudor’s greatest accomplishment is the malevolent Chalk Man, a villainous artist growing more menacing and mysterious as the book develops. A warning: this is a rather gruesome read at points. Decapitations, murders happening right there on the page, the unpleasant delivery of dead things at the doorstep – Tudor has simultaneously tipped her hat to a long tradition of macabre horror while redefining it as a contemporary thriller style. This is a brave, thoughtful book; its charm residing in the difficulties in pigeonholing it genre-wise.
‘Close by, a twig snapped, loud as a firecracker in the stillness, and a flurry of birds exploded out of the undergrowth.
C. J. Tudor’s love of writing, especially the dark and macabre, started young. When her peers were reading Judy Blume, she was devouring Stephen King and James Herbert. Over the years she has had a variety of jobs, including trainee reporter, dog walker, radio scriptwriter, shop assistant, voiceover artist, television presenter, copywriter, and now author.