Month: February 2019

The Chalk Man – C J Tudor

Title – The Chalk Man

Author – C J Tudor

Published – Jan 2018

Genre – Crime fiction

I had heard so many plaudits for this debut that I treated myself to a copy. It’s marketed heavily on similarities to Stephen King but to me it didn’t feel like ‘horror’, which is how most people think of King, it’s more like ‘Stand By Me’ – a coming of age story.

In the 1980s a group of friends are kicking their heels during the school holidays in a small town on the south coast of England. Eddie is one of the friends, now a 42 year old teacher still living in his parents’ house but with the addition of a young female lodger, and is the narrator of the events that took place thirty years previously. He’s received a mysterious letter (and if I’m honest I can’t remember if we ever found out what was in it) which sends ripples through the present and brings to the fore the events that took place thirty years ago. The events took the group from spending their pocket money at fairgrounds, building dens and riding their bikes, to a fractured group who mistrust each other.

Switching between the two timelines we have events unfolding in the 1980s where there is a surprisingly high body count and the present where Eddie is forced to face, and try to unravel, things that the friends hoped they could put behind them.

It’s an interesting way of telling the story, as a reader you wonder at each event ‘is this the one?’ and there are several possible candidates for being the ‘Chalk Man’ so it makes for an intriguing read. Eddie has some problems of his own and you realise fairly early on that he may not be the most reliable of narrators, he certainly is choosy about what he shares with the reader and when. The time slip aspect also gives an interesting feeling about the differences in perception that somewhat naive teens have versus more worldly wise adults. If all this isn’t enough there is also a more touching side of the story as Eddie describes his father’s decline with dementia. As is often the way with debuts, there are a lot of different things packed into the one book.

I liked the characters, you could see how the group would exist as friends and how the personalities fitted together. It’s also interesting to read about them in their school years and then jump ahead to find out what became of them as adults. It all felt very credible and authentic.

I enjoyed the writing and read the book over just a few days but I think there are some aspects where I got swept along with the writing and events may have seemed implausible if they had been given more scrutiny.

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The Whisper Man – Alex North

Title – The Whisper Man

Author – Alex North

Published – June 2019

Genre – Crime fiction

I picked this proof copy up when I attended the Michael Joseph Proof Party at the Cheltenham Literary Festival in October. All three participating authors gave a short reading from their books and this gave a real flavour of how creepy The Whisper Man would be. It was also one of the more frightening literary events I’ve been to because it was easy to believe we were all going to be blown away, marquee and all, the evening was so windy!

There is an odd issue with this book that I’m not sure how to address. The panel was three ‘debut’ authors but having been to a number of crime fiction events I am in no doubt that this isn’t a debut and actually is from a very well-respected crime author. It seems an odd pretence by the publisher (presumably a new relationship with this author) but hey ho.

So to the book. It definitely lived up to the creepy vibe I got at the panel. After the death of his wife,  Tom Kennedy and his young son Jake move to the sleepy village of Featherbank, looking for a fresh start, unaware that Featherbank has a dark past. Fifteen years ago a twisted serial killer abducted and murdered five young boys. Until he was finally caught, the killer was known as ‘The Whisper Man’.

Tom is struggling with his new status as a widower and the sole care of his son and Jake is still traumatised by the events around his mother’s death. The strains within the household seem to be divisive and Jake retreats into a world where he talks to ‘imaginary friends’ but then Jake knows things that he shouldn’t, disturbing things.

At the same time another young boy has disappeared, opening up old wounds for the original investigating officer who is called in to help with similarities to the original case. He is a man haunted by the fact that one of the boys was never found. This provides a second strand to the story as we find out more about the man who was convicted of the original deaths while the police try to find the missing child before the worst happens.

This is crime fiction with a bit of a twist (no, not that kind of twist). It has a psychological / supernatural element which isn’t in itself unusual but it does feel different that the main character is a a single father. There are plenty of women who find themselves as a lead character in this kind of drama but it doesn’t feel as if men do very often.

If I have one criticism it is how unremittingly creepy the book is. The tension feels really constant in Tom and Jake’s part of the story and I think if there had been more scenes that weren’t so tense they would have provided a good contrast and emphasised the ‘creepiness’.

I liked Tom as the main character, his story is in the first person and he has a very authentic sounding voice and it’s good to see a lead character with some depth and emotion rather than being a ‘tough guy’. The crime aspects are set against a background about family and loss but from this slightly unusual perspective.

I did find the story gripping and didn’t get the ‘whodunnit’, and did I mention it was creepy?

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Destroying Angel – S. G. MacLean

Title – Destroying Angel

Author – S. G. MacLean

Published – July 2018

Genre – Historical fiction

This is the sequel to The Black Friar and is the third in the ‘Seeker’ series.

It’s 1655 and Seeker has been sent to a small village on the North York Moors, asked to distribute orders demanding ever more restrictions on behaviour in new anti-Royalist laws. As an aside he is also tasked with tracking down a Royalist supporter who may have gone to ground in this, his family’s seat. What starts out as two simple tasks soon draws Seeker into hotbed of intrigue.

He starts his task by accepting an invitation to eat with the family of local businessman and local Commissioner, Matthew Pullan. It transpires that the village is in a state of fervent excitement as the following day The Trier (enforcer of Puritan morality for the villages) is due to sit to hear an accusation that the local vicar is accused of ungodly acts. The strained dinner highlights some of the resentments bubbling beneath the surface of the village and then one of the attendees becomes seriously unwell.

Seeker takes only a passing interest in events, pursuing his search for the missing Royalist, until the point when a young woman dies and he subsequently realises that events in the village have a very personal and unexpected connection to him. This gives rise to a variety of threads within the story – the search for the missing man, a murder investigation and a personal quest – all against a backdrop of suspicion, allegations, and petty power struggles.

The period is one where neighbour turns against neighbour and a small accusation can have huge repercussions. It’s also a time when the accusation of ‘witch’ can be a dangerous one and women need to be circumspect in how they appear. So the village is a tense place.

The personal side of the story is a very important one for Seeker and goes someway to explaining the dark character that readers will be familiar with. He is still not a man to be trifled with but his sense of decency shows through when he pursues an investigation onto the death of a young girl when there is no expectation on him to do so.

This story had less espionage than its predecessor and was more of a conventional murder mystery, the larger political picture also took a back seat to the ‘micro’ politics of the villages. The historical detail felt well-researched and certainly provided an immersive experience of the period. The book definitely would work without having read the previous title but it’s a good series that’s worth seeking out.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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