Fresh Blood

Name: C.J. Tudor

Title of Book: The Chalk Man

'This is only the beginning of 2018, and already ‘The Chalk Man’ sets the benchmark at a very high level.'

The Chalk Man is coming . . .

None of us ever agreed on the exact beginning.

Was it when we started drawing the chalk figures, or when they started to appear on their own?

Was it the terrible accident?

Or when they found the first body?

This is one of those debuts when you feel this can’t be a first book, Tudor must have a few books under her belt for this novel to feel so assured, so controlled… but, a debut this is and a fine one at that!

The chapters alternate between 2016 and 1986, the latter being the most fascinating as Tudor strikes exactly the right cord with the time, place and most importantly, the gang of kids who are caught up in the weird adult world of affairs, rape, deaths and ultimately a gruesome murder. Although I never encountered anything like Eddie and his gang, his emotions and the bond between the five continually brought back memories of my own childhood in a gang who always haunted the local playground. There is also a sense of innocence being corrupted, the young taken advantage of by their elders, kids thinking they’re adults when not realising they are being manipulated. Amongst all this, Tudor cleverly deals with memory, the loss of it and how recollections of our childhood can sometimes lead to us realising as adults, that everything wasn’t as rosy at the time.

There are so many strands to this wonderfully weird and macabre tale. Nobody is really an innocent here; everyone has their guilty secret however big or small. It is all bubbling under the surface, the truth seems that little bit distorted, just a fraction out of grasp. Tudor keeps control on all of this as if an old hand at the art of writing. There are obvious nods to crime fiction with the victim having the name of a very famous crime writer!

‘The Chalk Man’ shows incipient horror that death and murder can have on an informative mind. All this is intensified by the mysterious drawings of chalk men around the town. Tudor’s ending brings everything together, but leaves one last nod to the fragility of memory and the mind. This is only the beginning of 2018, and already ‘The Chalk Man’ sets the benchmark at a very high level. I expect great things of Tudor and will definitely be taking up her next book with relish!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) I had never realised that a piece of chalk or the drawing of a chalk man could be so sinister! What was the chrysalis of the idea that started this novel?
A friend gave my little girl a tub of coloured chalks for her second birthday. We spent the afternoon drawing stick figures all over the driveway. Then we went inside and forgot about them.

Later that night, I opened the back door and was confronted by these weird chalk drawings everywhere. In the darkness, they looked incredibly sinister. I called out to my partner: ‘These chalk men look really creepy in the dark. . .’

‘Ping’ went the lightbulb in my head.
2) There is a great dynamic between Eddie, Fat Gav, Metal Mickey, Hoppo and Nicky back in 1986. Were you in a similar gang as these guys really rang true for me?
Yes, the gang of friends in my book is loosely based upon me and my friends as pre-teens in the 80’s. Not in terms of individual characters but the stuff we’d do: building dens in the woods, riding around on our bikes, hanging out in the park. We were all girls but real tomboys!

I’m still in touch with my childhood friends. We meet up a few times a year. I think that’s why that period in my life is still so vivid. We chat about it together and reminisce all the time.
3) In some of the sequences there is a vibe of Gothic horror in there. Was this intentional and are you a fan of the Gothic genre?
I love a bit of horror. I grew up reading a lot of ghost stories and classics like ‘The Woman in Black’. Then I moved on to Stephen King and James Herbert. So, yes, I do like the Gothic genre but I really enjoy placing horror in a contemporary, suburban setting. I think it makes it scarier!
4) While I read your book, I got a strong sense of reading an early Minette Walters as your book is very readable, has great characters, a sense of everything being out of kilter and people within society who feel on the edge of it. Who would you say were big influences on you before you started writing?
That’s interesting. I’ve read quite a few of Minette Walters books and really enjoyed them. I think you absorb a bit of everything you read and certain books stay with you. However, probably my biggest influences have been Stephen King and Michael Marshall. I love Stephen King’s unique conversational style of writing and his ability to create such vivid characters. I love the way Michael Marshall mixes genres and his bleak humour.
5) What do you have planned for your next novel?
Another dark, creepy mystery set in a former mining village in Nottinghamshire.

‘When Joe Thorne was fifteen, his little sister, Annie, disappeared. And then she came back.

Twenty-five years later, an eleven-year-old boy is bludgeoned to death by his own mother in the same village.

Joe returns, to work as a teacher at the failing school, but also to find answers. However, coming back to the place where he grew up means facing the people he grew up with, the things they did . . . and what they found.’

I think it’s darker and twistier than ‘The Chalk Man’. You have been warned!!
6) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
I’m a big fan of crime fiction but many crime novels (even great ones) don’t stand up to re-reading once you’ve got the reveal.

So, I’d pick:

The Straw Men by Michael Marshall - this is simply a brilliant thriller. Even though I know the twists and turns, I can still enjoy the strength of the writing.

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan - although classed as cyberpunk, at its heart it’s a futuristic noir/detective novel. Stunning world-building with a very clever plot.

And The Shining – yes, this is a cop-out because it isn’t crime (well, attempted murder maybe?). But it’s a book I can happily read again and again . . . and c’mon, I’m stranded on a desert island, give me a break!!