The Chalk Man, by C.J. Tudor

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, C. J. Tudor, and Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After being hooked my the premise of this book and noticing the extensive ARC review activity this novel received, I was drawn in to see if Tudor’s book met the hype. Eddie Adams lives what might be a typical twelve year-old life, with a number of friends who have taken it upon themselves to explore the world around them. During the summer of 1986, they attend a local fair and Eddie is witness to a horrible accident, where he meets a man who will soon become a teacher at their school, Mr. Halloran. For the rest of the summer, Eddie and his friends begin using a new form of communication, leaving messages in coloured chalk. There also seems to be someone who wants to up the ante and draws random chalk figures around town. When a number of other tragedies occur, there is always a chalk man left at the scene, or appearing soon thereafter, leaving Eddie to wonder who might be behind all this. Fast forwarding to 2016, Ed is now a grown man and have become a teacher himself. When one of his friends approaches him to write a book about the summer of ‘86, the memories begin to flood back. Threads left dangling are soon tied off as Ed is able to process some of the activities and seeks to better understand who might have been The Chalk Man. Forced to deal with his past and how the filter of adulthood synthesises events, Ed Adams comes to terms with what has happened, while finding new mysteries to leave him feeling ill at ease. Tudor does a decent job here to entice readers with the alternating chapters from 1986 and 2016, telling a dual narrative that meld together at the most opportune times. Those who like a mix of flashbacks and current day may enjoy this piece, though it did not leave me as spine-tingled as I might have suspected, based on the dust cover summary. That being said, what a great ending!

This being C.J. Tudor’s debut novel, I had little but the aforementioned hype to base my opinion on her work. Tudor has laid the groundwork for something sensational here and has moments of brilliance in the form of a creepy aspect, though I somehow felt the story fell short of being as chilling as it seeks to be. The characters found throughout develop well, using both the current and backstory building blocks that are supported with the alternating timeline chapters. Eddie Adams finds himself in the middle of the action and his coming of age occurs throughout the narrative, complemented by a cast of differentiated friends, all of whom have their own quirks. The looming Mr. Halloran and Reverend Martin characters provide additional chill factors, though the potential for true fear in the form of The Chalk Man is left too diluted or on the wayside. That is not to say the story is poor, for it definitely has some strong aspects and Tudor does her best to draw the reader in, if only to see how that summer shaped Eddie for the long-haul. Additionally, the narrative keeps the reader bouncing around, filling in gaps as the plot thickens. Mysteries left dangling find their resolution and new ones emerge, which keeps the reader on track with enjoying the book to the finish. I suppose I got caught up in the hype and the buzz of Goodreads tossing out so many stellar reviews that I feel slightly deflated. What I sought was a bone-chilling novel to keep me up well into the night. I received a decent story that develops well, though lacks the eerie quality that might have been present, given time and some slight changes to the plot’s path.

Kudos, Madam Tudor, for a great novel. Your debut piece shows me that there is potential there and I will certainly tackle another of your books, when you write your next novel.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: