The Chalk Man by C J Tudor. Audiobook narrated by Andrew Scott and Asa Butterfield.
Opening sentence, “The girl’s head rested on a small pile of orange and brown leaves.”
Our lead character, Edward Adams, tells us the creepy story of The Chalk Man in both 2016 and 1986 (the year events are triggered) and what an enticing, gripping little tale it is.
It was on my first maternity leave, 2 years ago, that I discovered the joy of audiobooks due to the many hours I spent walking a baby with a resistance to sleep. So, now that I find myself again on mat leave, audiobooks – specifically this one – have once again come to the rescue and made walking for miles something I look forward to! The Chalk Man is one of the best audiobooks I’ve listened to (the narrator plays a very important role, as I’ve explained here). In 1986, as a 12-year-old boy, Eddie is a cut-glass English kid, but by the time he is 40, he has developed an Irish accent. Such is the way of the audiobook. Actually, I quite enjoyed this differentiation in the narrators, actors Andrew Scott (2016 Ed) and Asa Butterfield (1986 Eddie) really brought life and energy to the book and there was no mistaking which era you were listening to.
A very grisly prologue perfectly sets the scene for this sophisticated murder mystery. In 1986 Eddie and his friends (Fat Gav, Hoppo and Metal Mickey) have a secret code: They communicate by drawing chalk men. Then one day the messages lead them to the body of a girl in the woods on the outskirts of their small, quaint English town where – usually – not much happens, but no one knows who drew (or will take responsibility for drawing) the chalk messages… Eddie also witnesses a horrific Waltzer accident at the local fair and ends up developing an unusual friendship with a new teacher, Mr Halloran. In 2016, Ed (now a teacher) lives with his lodger Chloe in his childhood home. Fat Gav and Hoppo still live in the village. Metal Mickey no longer does after an accident that he was blamed for left Fat Gav in a wheelchair. So, when Mickey turns up out of the blue with a proposition for Ed, wanting to drag up their grisly past, Ed is suspicious. Especially as this is around the same time that all four men start to receive mysterious chalk men drawings, which when they were kids were the signal for a murder… There are several plot threads that are all expertly woven together, both across the different timescales and within each year.
Ed is a wonderfully written character that, for me, is the true standout element in this book. He is not – on paper – likeable, he’s damaged and broken due to the traumatic childhood incident, he has alcohol issues and a natural melancholic character. Add in the fact his fragile father is battling Alzheimers and his mother’s controversial job that means the family are often a target of hatred from local people and things are not easy for him. Yet, you connect with him and want to keep reading to find out more.
This is CJ Tudor’s debut novel and she is certainly an author I’m going to keep an eye out for based on the superb writing style she has showcased here. As with most murder mystery thrillers, the ending is all important – the book can be brilliantly written, but if the last few chapters are duds, then you feel unsatisfied. Not the case here – The Chalk Man gives you an ending you won’t guess and leaves you going back over all the clever story threads in your mind. It’s definitely one you’ll be recommending, just so you have someone to discuss it with.