There is no more tiresome endorsement for a new book than “the next Gone Girl.” There is no such thing. Its success was that it was not formulaic, any attempt to repeat that is essentially writing to formula. Happily, first-time author C. J. Tudor is not trying to write the next Gone Girl and so succeeds in writing something wonderful, fresh, and dynamic. The Chalk Man goes back in forth between 1986 and 2016, between Eddie as a child and as an adult.
Eddie and his friends discover a young woman in the woods, murdered and her body chopped up and cast about the woods. Her head is never found, but she is identified as Elisa, a teen who Eddie and a local high school teacher named Mr. Halloran saved with first aid after a horrific accident at the fair earlier in the year.
It’s a trying time for Eddie. He is being bullied by his friend’s older brother, his mother is the target of fanatical anti-choice protesters. He has a crush on his friend Nicky whom he thinks is abused by her fanatical father Rev. Martin. Martin is the person leading the persecution of his mother. When the Rev. is attacked, his father is a suspect in a savage attack on him that leaves him catatonic even thirty years later.
There are many crimes. Who stole Sean’s bike which led to his death? Who beat Rev. Martin? Who killed Elisa? Who killed Mickey? Who spiked the punch that led to his friend Gav being in a wheelchair for the rest of his life? Who is Chloe and why is she spying on him? So many questions and they are answered slowly, bit by bit, and always fairly.
I loved The Chalk Man. I had not planned to read it until January because I am so far behind after a bad cold that kept me from reading, but it slipped off my stack of book and when I picked it up, I read the first paragraph and could not put it down. It’s that good.
I like the way the story unfolds, the mysteries accumulate and fester under the surface. There’s real suspense and sometimes Tudor plays with her readers, such as the time Eddie comes home and finds the door unlocked, his tenant missing, and blood on the floor. It isn’t what you think! Eddie as a narrator is wise and foolish, he is empathetic and sometimes hard and unbending. He is harsher in judging himself than he is with others. I like him, though he’s definitely a bit off.
I love the complexity of The Chalk Man and how the solutions are rooted in human nature. They make sense. This may be Tudor’s first, but she writes with confidence. I look forward to many more by her in the future.
The Chalk Man will be published January 9th. I received an Advance Reading Copy from the publisher through NetGalley and a drawing at Shelf Awareness.