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The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

The Chalk Man


We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, C.J. Tudor, on your first book!

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by C.J. Tudor

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Quick take

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


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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The Chalk Man

The girl's head rested on a small pile of orange-and-brown leaves.

Her almond eyes stared up at the canopy of sycamore, beech and oak, but they didn't see the tentative fingers of sunlight that poked through the branches and sprinkled the woodland floor with gold. They didn't blink as shiny black beetles scurried over their pupils. They didn't see anything anymore, except darkness.

A short distance away, a pale hand stretched out from its own small shroud of leaves as if searching for help, or reassurance that it was not alone. None was to be found. The rest of her body lay out of reach, hidden in other secluded spots around the woods.

Close by, a twig snapped, loud as a firecracker in the stillness, and a flurry of birds exploded out of the undergrowth. Someone approached.

They knelt down beside the unseeing girl. Their hands gently caressed her hair and stroked her cold cheek, fingers trembling with anticipation. Then they lifted up her head, dusted off a few leaves that clung to the ragged edges of her neck, and placed it carefully in a bag, where it nestled among a few broken stubs of chalk.

After a moment's consideration, they reached in and closed her eyes. Then they zipped the bag shut, stood up and carried it away.

Some hours later, police officers and the forensic team arrived. They numbered, photographed, examined and eventually took the girl's body to the morgue, where it lay for several weeks, as if awaiting completion.

It never came. There were extensive searches, questions and appeals but, despite the best efforts of all the detectives and all the town's men, her head was never found, and the girl in the woods was never put together again.

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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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Member ratings (6,288)

  • Deedi B.

    Jersey City, NJ

    This book hooked me from the beginning and allowed me to rip through it quickly. And the ending—the very, very ending after the climax of the story, the very last page—was just…so great.

  • Breanne F.

    Douglassville, PA

    With the end of every chapter I would tell myself, “maybe I'll read one more”. I simply couldn't put it down and looked forward to reading more everyday. I haven't felt like that for some time.

  • Brittney S.

    North Branch , MN

    I loved this book but it did start slow. I’ll be honest though, that has more to do with my toddler than the story. If it takes a little bit to “get into it” don’t give up! The ending is CRAZY!

  • Elena E.

    Fraser, CO

    I absolutely loved this book. The characters were so interesting and the twists and turns were thought provoking. I couldn’t put this book down. I finished in 2 days! Would recommend to mystery lovers

  • Alexa R.

    Tuscaloosa, AL

    I loved mysterious & suspense and this was the perfect book to keep me guessing til the end. Eddie’s sarcastic narration and dry wit provided the relief the story needed. 10/10 did not expect the end

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