This is pretty dazzling debut, especially given all the clunky "just OK" mysteries that litter my house, library history, recommendations and my Read piles. I'll take a mystery no matter what, but it's very nice to get a good one.
As I read this, I was reminded repeatedly of less successful (in my eyes) books I've read recently. It does the back and forth from A Time Before to Present Day and back again, which is what apparently must be done in every book written since 2016, but it didn't irk me the way many others have. Even when we jumped time, the storyline continued through. The past had a lot to do with the present. It wasn't just some device. Or if it was, it was well handled.
I also noted that All the Missing Girls has a fair number of surface similarities - both set in small insular towns, involving a circle of friends who have known each other since childhood, cue the lifelong crush, and then there's the biggie -- two murders decades apart. The similarities end there though. First of all, the characters are all original in this book. People we would be led to feel sorry for in other books are strong in this one. People we would like in other books are unlikable in this one. Everyone is very human. Nobody is a cardboard cutout. And there are some nice twisty bits that require actual attention because you haven't read them a thousand times before.
Every time I thought I was onto a clue, I was dead wrong. Twist after twist, we're kept slightly off balance by a narrator who drinks too much and is a bit of a curmudgeon in everyman clothes. Maybe because I woke up early and read in the dark, but the whole book feels spooky and yet on the surface it all seems so normal. It's never good when things seem normal. I know this, so maybe I added to the spooky factor.
I can't tell you the plot. If I tell it, I'll give something away. Again, this is not a book anyone MUST read. But if you're looking for a good mystery that was released recently, this is the best "everyone's talking about it" book I've read in a while.
"The Chalk Man" is a thriller set in a small English town and told in two timelines: the summer of 1986, when the main characters are twelve year's old, and forty years later when someone challenges what really happened in 1986.
It is a very atmospheric piece that captures both the feel of being twelve in 1986 and the reality of having lived in the same provincial town, with the same people, for forty years.
Initially, the 1986 timeline in "The Chalk Man" reminded me of Stephen King's novella "The Body", which was made into the movie "Stand By Me". It had a similar intensity but a much more British feel and the dynamic was altered because the group of twelve-year-olds included a girl. The 2016 storyline was too bleak and filled with too much self-loathing to be a King story. I found both the fear in 1986 and the despair in 2016 very believable.
"The Chalk Man" has a plot, constructed around violence, secrets, fear, transgression and revenge, that is intricate and not fully disclosed until the final chapter.
Yet it is not the plot but the depth of the characterisation of Eddie as child and man that makes the book special. Both timelines are told from Eddie's point of view. In 1986 he seems, at first glance, to be a bright, curious boy. In 2016 he is a defeated man, with a weakness for drink, doing a job he has no passion for and still living in the house he grew up in. As time goes by, it becomes clear that Eddie is more complicated than that and that his memory and therefore his version of events, may not be entirely reliable.
This is a story where people are not who they seem to be, either because they lie or their memories lie for them. Discovering the truth becomes a complicated business, leading me eventually to realise that the real truth was not about who killed whom but about the web of lies and memories that had bound the four main characters together for over forty years.
This is an engaging, page-turning, read, I listened to the audiobook version which was narrated by Andrew Scott as the 2016 Eddie and Asa Butterfield as the 1986 Eddie. Both gave great performances although I did experience a little dissonance because the grown-up Eddie speaks with an Irish accent that the young Eddie didn't have.
"The Chalk Man" is C J Tudor's first novel. You can read an interview with her about how she wrote the book HERE
You can also hear her discuss her book on the YouTube video below
Click on the SoundCloud link below to get a sample of the audiobook narration.
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'On February 1, 1535, King Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy came into force, and one of the first groups he proceeded against were the Carthusian monks. Although this order had long been a respected and peaceful group, Henry labeling himself 'Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England' made it possible for him to charge them with treason for their failure to accept his self-proclaimed level of spiritual power. His retribution was fierce and intended to be an example of any who considered refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy.'