The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor

The Chalk Man is a dark, creepy mystery that's part crime fiction, part horror and part coming-of-age story.

Image result for cj tudor the chalk manIn 1986, Eddie Adams is 12 years old when he meets his strange new teacher, Mr Halloran, as they both witness a horrific accident at the local fair - the first in a series of terrible tragedies to strike Anderbury, including a brutal murder and its subsequent fallout. That same summer, Eddie's friend Fat Gav, gets a tub of coloured chalks as a birthday present, which at Mr Halloran's suggestion Eddie and his friends use to leave secret messages for each other in the form of stick men drawn on the pavement.

Now a teacher in his early 40s, Eddie teaches at a local school, still lives in the house he grew up in, and has an unrequited crush on his much younger lodger, Chloe. One day, his old school friend Mickey returns to Anderbury after a long absence, claiming to be writing a book about the events of 1986 and seeking Eddie's help.

And then tragedy strikes again, and the chalk men start to reappear...

The Chalk Man is streets ahead of the generic psychological thrillers that are currently filling the bestseller charts. The plot is cleverly multilayered - there really is an awful lot going on for a book of this length, and yet it never feels sketchy or frantic; the pace is suitably measured throughout - and every character feels credible and real. In Eddie, CJ Tudor has managed to create a narrator who is not so much pulling the rug from under our feet but just giving it enough of a twitch now and again to make us feel just that little bit unsteady - and despite hints that Eddie might be harbouring some strange secrets of his own, it's somehow hard not to like him.

While this isn't a supernatural story as such, there are certainly elements of horror fiction in this book, with Eddie's nightmares feeling disturbingly vivid. The Chalk Man comes with the endorsement of Stephen King on the cover and I can certainly see why; there are themes here that King often returns to in his own work and I felt there were strong echoes of It here and there. But The Chalk Man is a much more subtle, much more streamlined, much more character-driven novel than that, and it feels fresh, original and well-written. There's barely a word here that seems poorly chosen.

The Chalk Man was one of the most enjoyable thrillers I've read for a long time and is an impressive debut. I'll definitely be looking out for more by this author.

The Chalk Man is out in paperback in August but at the time of going to press, the hardback is only £6 on Amazon. It's also available for Kindle. If you don't like Amazon, you can also order it from Hive, Wordery or Waterstones.