In 1986, Eddie and his friends Fat Gav, Hoppo, Metal Mickey and Nicky are on the verge of adolescence. They hang out together in their small town, deal with the bullying from Mickey’s older brother, and send each other coded messages in coloured chalk. Until one day, the chalk symbols lead them to a dismembered body and leave them with memories they can never forget. As they grow older, the gang slowly drifts apart, and an incident in college leads to a drastic break in their friendship. Fast forward to 2016 and Eddie is still living in the same small town as a teacher, when he receives an email from Mickey, wanting to reconnect about the dead body they found. Long-buried secrets are dredged up, and various bits of truth about that day are slowly unearthed.
The Chalk Man is a taut, atmospheric thriller that I devoured in a single sitting. Part of it was that I really wanted to find out what had happened that day in 1986, but more than that, I found myself drawn to the characters Tudor created, and to their lives. The story switches back and forth between the past and the present, and I love the juxtaposition that shows how much the characters have changed in the interim. The Chalk Man reminded me somewhat of Stranger Things, Riverdale, and maybe some of Stephen King’s books — the 1986 scenes had a similar sense of nostalgia and an idyllic environment tinged with foreboding.
Tudor does such a great job with the 1986 scenes that the 2016 scenes paled slightly in comparison. There’s still a sense of foreboding and the immediate mysterious threat of Eddie and all of his friends receiving a note in the mail with a stick figure sketched in chalk. One of the characters even gets murdered, which raises the question of who is after the gang now, and why they’re being targeted. But it lacks the sense of place and time that made the 1986 scenes so strong. It was also kinda sad to see how the lives of Eddie and his friends turned out in adulthood, though to Tudor’s credit, it felt all too real. And while part of me felt that the twists and reveals near the end were a bit much, it is also to Tudor’s credit that, looking back at the rest of the story, I realize that they fit right in with who the characters were and how they acted.
I finished this book late at night, and would highly recommend to start reading it earlier in the day. It’s a dark, creepy tale that’ll draw you deep into Eddie’s world, and definitely not the type of story you want to read in bed. The final chapter in particular is not the image you want to end the night with.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.