Publisher: Michael Joseph (18th January 2018)
Print Length: 342 pages
Eddie was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Standing near the fairground hot-dog stall, across from the Waltzers, a twelve-year-old not ready to become a hero. But fate flung itself into his life, pulling him into a swirl of events, the ramifications of which haunt Eddie for the next three decades.
So starts C.J. Tudor's excellent debut novel. Set in the small town of Anderbury, the story contrasts coming-of-age angst with the sinister local underbelly of colliding ideologies, perversion, and murder. It's a story that encompasses the fickleness of friendships and family, of misplaced love, and, above all, of the destiny that awaits, be it kind or cruel.
Eddie is on the cusp of becoming a teenager, and spends his time with his gang of mates. Their adolescent innocence of creating a code of chalk pavement drawings seems like a neat idea. It allows them to send secret messages to each other. But when the same chalk men drawings presage a horrific attack and the uncovering of dismembered bodies, the fragility of Eddie's naivety is dealt a blow that follows him into adulthood.
Told over the dual time-lines of 1986 and 2016, the narrative is intricately crafted. The pace never slackening. The young Eddie's main interests are being cool, the somewhat mysterious Mr Halloran — who has arrived from out of town to teach at Eddie's school — and Nicky, the girl who tags along with him and his friends. Thirty years later and Eddie still lives in Anderbury. He is a bachelor and inwardly ill at ease with himself — and he holds a crush for Chloe, his much younger female lodger. The townsfolk appear to have forgotten and moved on from the upheaval of the past, but Eddie hasn't. As the plot unfolds, we learn that Eddie isn't the only person preoccupied with the past. The chalk man drawings materialise again, scrawled on paper and sent out to the former childhood friends. Are these fresh chalk man drawings an intentional harbinger of another suspicious death?
This is a story crammed full of surprise and suspense — and a nagging sense of disquiet. The current-day Eddie feels that life has left too many enigmatic loose ends unresolved, and an unexpected visit from one of his boyhood friends prompts Eddie to search for a satisfactory conclusion to the uncomfortable memories he carries. Will he be able to fasten off those loose ends from the present? And if he can, will he be able to cope with the truth of the role he played in Anderbury's murky bygone years?
Wading further into the lapping of the fast-approaching tide of mystery, each chapter will beckon you deeper in, and once you become immersed there is no natural break. You'll always suspect that a dark secret lies just beneath the surface of the current page. And you'll be correct. Like warm blood dripping from the tip of a sharp blade, the narrative will fascinate and horrify, keeping you within its grasp. It will invariably leave you wondering what is around the next corner... or concealed by a pile of fallen leaves amid the trees in the woods... or hidden in a box under loose floorboards...
Perhaps the one thing that slightly detracted from the story for me was the almost inevitable series of plot twists. The regularity of their delivery tended to lessen their impact. In spite of this, the final twist caught me completely unprepared.
This is a novel that spins more violently than a fairground waltzer. The ride is exhilarating and highly recommended. Read it.