"The Chalk Man" by C.J. Tutor
When I was a young child, it was just a small swath of boring Ohio land – our backyards – that separated me from my best friend, Jessi. While I spent my share of evenings and weekends in her backyard, and her in mine, we, like all children, were occasionally told we couldn’t go over to each others’ houses.
Perhaps dinner was nearly ready.
Or it was too late.
Or one of us had done something wrong.
Whatever the reason, we had a workaround.
On the bottom of the chain-link fence that separated the yards, about midway down the run, was a hole – about the size and shape of one that would rest at the base of a wall and allow cartoon mice to enter and exit a home.
I can recall many an occasion on which Jessi and I played Barbies through this hole in the fence – neither of us technically breaking any rules but both of us getting what we wanted.
I think pretty much everyone has childhood recollections like this one. Quirky and cute things they did when they were growing up.
Fortunately for most of us, these childhood games rarely lead to our involvement in a gruesome murder.
Unfortunately for the group of friends central of C.J. Tutor’s The Chalk Man, there’s did.
The life of protagonist Eddie and his ragtag bunch of friends (Hoppo, Fat Gav and Metal Mickey) changed forever when they happened upon the dismembered body of a girl in their local woods.
But their discovery wasn’t as unexpected as it would seem. They were actually lead to the body by someone who knew how to speak a special language consisting of chalk-drawn stick figures and symbols that the boys had spent the majority of the summer of 1986 building.
The fact that someone lead the boys to this body using their own secret (or so they think) communication method intensifies the mystery surrounding this already quite perplexing discovery.
But while the chalk message that lead the boys into the woods was exceedingly temporary, the impact of their discovery would, presumably, not be.
Fortunately for us, we don’t have to make presumptions about the lasting impact this singular event will have on the boys as, throughout the book, the author jumps from the past to the present, presenting us with grown Ed (because Eddie is a baby name), Gav (he’s no longer fat), Mickey (he got the braces off his teeth and is therefore no longer metal) and Hoppo (he didn’t change enough to earn himself a new name).
While these grown men may have thought that the discovery of the body in the woods 30 years prior was but a blip in an otherwise normal history, the event is brought back into their immediate attention by the unexpected (and unwelcome) arrival of eerie letters including only one thing – a chalk stick figure with a noose around his neck.
At first, this would seem only a sick joke, but when one of them ends up dead they realize that this isn’t some simple prank – it’s a message and failure to heed the warning will have deadly consequences.
So, obviously the premise of this book sounds pretty solid… and spooky (like Imma-carry-my-cat-downstairs-with-me-when-I-go-to-get-a-glass-of-water-at-night level of spooky).
The question is, as it always is, did it live up to its potential?
The answer, I’m pleased to report, was yes.
Among the strengths of this book was the author’s ability to effectively differentiate the voices of her adolescent characters from those of the men they would become. The portions of the book written from the perspective of 12-year-old Eddie effectively and believably captured the world through adolescent eyes, reflecting his innocence and naivety.
And, even when dealing with adolescent characters (maybe especially when dealing with adolescent characters) Tutor didn’t pull any punches. All of her characters, both adolescent and grown were flawed and struggling.
These imperfections made the characters seem real and round and dynamic.
Because, at the end of the day, people aren’t perfect.
And neither is life.
As a whole, The Chalk Man was gritty and raw. It consistently stuck its toe just over the edge into supernatural, making it ideal for fans of Stephen King.
In fact, one of the characters seemed to be so similar to a character in what is arguably the most famous of King’s books that I wonder if it must have been done out of design as an homage of sorts.
The character in question is Nicky – the solo girl who bikes around the small town with this rambunctious group of boys. Of course, the main character has a huge crush on her. And she’s abused by her father who is raising her as a single parent. And she has red, wavy hair.
God, why does this description sound so familiar?
But don’t get me wrong. Despite this similarity, this book wasn’t simply rehashing of stuff that’s been done.
It was fresh and distinctive (which is so welcome in a world where so many thrillers are but repetitions of the same old tune).
That’s not to say that this book is entirely without fault, however.
As you would assume, based on the premise, we spend the majority of the book trying to solve the 30-year-old murder mystery that continues to haunt our main characters.
At the end, there was a resolution to this mystery, but it wasn’t entirely satisfying. Nor, honestly, was it entirely believable.
Were it not for the well-paced closure, which even further developed the already-pretty-fucking-developed character of Ed, the denouement might have left a bad taste in my mouth after the conclusion of this book.
As it stands, however, despite my concerns about the plausibility of the culprit, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would – will – recommend it to fellow readers.
It earns 4 out of 5 cocktails.
I’m really excited about the next book on my TBR. It’s an advanced copy from an author I love. Want to see what it is? Follow me, here.
What odd things did you and your friends do growing up? Any special signals?...Secret hiding places?...Intricate phone system comprised of stings and cans (which I always questioned the actual effectiveness of)?... Tell me about it, in the comments, below.
*I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.