Book: The Chalk Man
Author: CJ Tudor
Publication Info: 2018, Crown Publishing Group
Genres: Thriller, Mystery, Horror, Crime, Adult Fiction
My Rating: 2-2.5 stars. 3.7 average on Goodreads.
Content: Contains references, implied and explicit, to sexual assault/rape, exploitation of a minor, death (graphic), abortion (big plot point), violence, self-harm, death/grief & loss, death of an animal (graphic), cursing
Thus, as you’d assume, this is an adults only book and may definitely not be everyone’s cup of tea.
In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.
In 2016, Eddie is fully grown, and thinks he’s put his past behind him. But then he gets a letter in the mail, containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank . . . until one of them turns up dead.
That’s when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.
Please refer to above stated content descriptions which I’ve flagged only because I think they’re worth telling a potential reader about. I don’t like to give away the entire plot of a thriller/horror, which by nature includes graphic content that won’t be for everyone. However, even as a seasoned thriller reader, I was kind of taken aback by a few scenes I read. This review will discuss them. Spoilers will be indicated.
Earlier this year, I read Tudor’s The Burning Girls, which I loved (link goes to Goodreads review). It was a random library selection ending up to be a 5 star read.
I decided to get Tudor’s other books, so I’m going backwards. I took this into consideration when thinking of my review. Knowing the latest book was pretty good, I thought some of the things I didn’t like about this book could be excused, as it was a first go at it. I can see Tudor’s authorial patterns emerging even after just two books, so there is a sense of development there. I will give others a fair shot either way.
The Chalk Man has something special about it that I won’t be able to fully understand: it has many elements of similar to the styles of Stephen King. I have read a handful of King novels, but I am not as seasoned an expert as many other fellow reviewers. I waded through some of the negative reviews on Goodreads, for example, and several posts outlined different viewpoints on Tudor’s emulation. Some say it was outright plagiarism, some thought it fell weak. At the same time, many positive reviews thought it was well done. I’ll be approaching this book without those same prejudices or preconceived knowledge.
For me, this book was basically about a man who for the longest time remained nameless & faceless in my imagination. The cast of characters around him are typical of a childhood trauma storyline: the fat & loud kid who is funny to hide insecurities, the red haired tom-boy and possible crush, the younger brother of the bully who torments the group, among others. Parents and other adults are mostly reduced to their roles as their characterization (ex: Nicky’s dad is the religious leader in the small village, so he’s always banging on about abortions). Which is mostly fine, it’s all about the main character, his crew, and their secrets. Oh, and of course, The Chalk Man.
The book alternates between the 1986 and 2016 timelines. Each chapter reflects on the past and current day’s grappling with childhood traumas surrounding the death of several individuals in the story. Without giving too much away, I can say that for the most part, the story is centered on the question of who is responsible for several interconnected grievances and crimes. The main character and narrator would’ve been fine to keep the secrets and questions stifled deep in his subconscious, but then he and the gang receive mysterious letters in the post years later…. so it’s all brought back up to the surface.
Spoilers & graphic content past this line.
I had trouble connecting any sense of urgency or thrill to this book. Tudor’s The Burning Girls was rated so highly by me this year because it filled my head with an urgency to return to the story, a desire to keep reading even when it was late. That feeling, to me, is the making of a 5 star book.
This book was one I could place down at any point and not care to return. It was not necessarily boring, but it was not thrilling or mysterious.
It was continuously horrific, however, in its plot points of rape, sexual assault, exploitation of minors, graphic descriptions of death and violence, mentions of just all around depressing stuff. That’s probably the best way I can describe this book: depressing, but in a bad way.
Honestly, the constant reiteration of the stilted sexual assault scene (the two boys) throughout the book was enough to make me want to drop the book. I am not a reader who demands clean or wholesome reads. I have read things that make me sick to my stomach and understand it’s part of the book. But really, couple this with poor pacing, stilted and boring writing, and just being beat across the head with depressing stories from childhood and a pathetic adulthood just made for a lackluster read altogether.
And there was one last moment where I knew it was a death sentence for me in terms of liking this book: I started skimming.
The ending was convoluted, so wholly unrealistic and a let down. This may be another reference to a King novel, so it could have been chosen as that symbol. However, for me, it just didn’t work. The “invalid has been faking the whole time” shtick is a bit rich, considering the twists and turns this took to get to that point.
So, ultimately, I would have to say I don’t recommend this book based on 1) poor pace and character development leading to a lack of urgency or thrilling story; 2) constantly and relentlessly depressing to an almost annoying degree, and 3) didn’t like the ending at all.
Caveat – If you’re a Stephen King fan, you may like this one based on the fact that I read other reviewers say it has a lot of common features.
Caveat 2 – I liked this author’s other book, The Burning Girls, and it has a lot of similarities in terms of its style and plot development. I think it was much better done.