Thursday, 31 May 2018

The Chalk Man, by C. J. Tudor

          It is 1986 and Fat Gav (yep, he really is), Metal Mickey (he wears braces), Hoppo (short for Hopkins), and Ed Munster (his surname is Adams which really has nothing at all to do with the Munsters, but …) and Nicky Martin, a vicar’s daughter and the only girl in their little gang are all 12 years old and go to the same school in the picturesque village of Anderbury.  They are firm friends (though Metal Mickey has a mean streak and is hard to like all the time) and are looking forward to going to the annual Fair, the highlight of their school holidays.
            The Fair is ACE, as they all thought it would be, until Ed is a spectator at a terrible accident as a piece of faulty equipment flies off a ride and badly injures a young girl standing nearby:  fortunately for her – and Ed! A cool-headed stranger takes charge, and under his instruction Ed is able to assist the girl until the ambulance arrives.  He and the stranger are heroes!  And how cool that the stranger will be his school’s new English teacher when the holidays are over.  Of course, it’s a terrible shame about the poor girl, her pretty face quite ruined by her injuries but apart from that, 1986 is going very well indeed.
            Now it is 2016 and the great potential of their collective futures is gone:  Fat Gav is in a wheelchair, crippled in a driving accident caused by Metal Mickey;  English teacher Ed lives in a state of gentlemanly and alcoholic seediness in his family’s home – his beloved Dad has died of Alzheimer’s and his mum is living elsewhere;  Hoppo is a plumber and still lives with his mum, who is very frail and forgetful.  And Metal Mickey, spiteful, hate-filled Metal Mickey, has returned to Anderbury after a very long absence during which he created for himself a new persona as a high-flying advertising exec:  he is threatening to write a book about the event that none of them can bear to face:  the brutal murder and dismemberment in the woods of the girl who had been injured at the fair.  Her body parts were buried here and there under piles of leaves, discovered by the boys as they played in the woods;  only her head was never found.  Now Mickey wants to write a book about this heinous crime because ‘he knew who killed her’. 
            C.J. Tudor’s debut novel, narrated by Ed, has more layers than an onion and covers much more emotional ground than the usual common-or-garden thriller;  there are several important sub-plots woven tightly and well into the main theme of the story, not least abortion-on-demand (Ed’s mother is a Doctor at an abortion clinic), and the fact that each member of the little ‘gang’ (with the exception of Mickey – at first) is an only child:  they are each other’s true siblings.  But what is the significance of the little stick men drawn in chalk that always seem to turn up when something horrible has happened?  I hope Ms Tudor’s next book is as gripping and clever as this one.  FIVE STARS         

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