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Quick take

"A haunting, tightly paced stunner of a debut, one that will keep you guessing all the way through."

Why I love it

I’ve always felt the best time of year to read murder mysteries is deep in the heart of winter, when the subject matter is as dark as the long nights. The Chalk Man is a brilliant addition for any winter reading list—its twists and turns will keep you on edge, with surprises coming on every page till the very last.

A group of friends who grew up together in a quaint English village are bound by the shared trauma of finding the dismembered body of a young woman in the woods. If you’re thinking that you recognize shades of Stephen King and even Agatha Christie, you’re not wrong—Tudor slyly references these giants of the genre, but still spins a story entirely her own.

The narrative jumps back and forth between the present day and 30 years prior, when the community in which Eddie and his friends grew up is torn asunder by a series of tragedies. It all starts with a horrific accident at a carnival, and accelerates with the arrival of a strange man—a new teacher at the local school—who seems to have an uncanny connection to every bad thing that befalls the town.

But there’s another thing uniting these tragedies—a series of simple stick figure chalk drawings which the friends have been using to communicate with one another. What seemed like a simple enough game soon takes on a life of its own, and the chalk figures are mysteriously utilized in crimes including a brutal beating, vicious bullying, and the cold-blooded murder of the girl in the woods.

Tudor does an expert job at juggling the two timelines, and never veers too far into the kind of nostalgia-induced emotion lesser writers would rely on when portraying a group of scrappy teenage friends coming of age in the 1980s. Rather, what is universal here is the difficulties we all have in figuring out what—and who—to believe in, and whether or not we can trust anything in this world, even our own memories. The Chalk Man, then, is a haunting, tightly paced stunner of a debut, one that will keep you guessing all the way through.

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Synopsis

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.

Expertly alternating between flashbacks and the present day, The Chalk Man is the very best kind of suspense novel, one where every character is wonderfully fleshed out and compelling, where every mystery has a satisfying payoff, and where the twists will shock even the savviest reader.

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Preview

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4950 ratings
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