Published by Broadway Books on December 31, 2018
In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same. In 2016, Eddie is fully grown, and thinks he's put his past behind him. But then he gets a letter in the mail, containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank . . . until one of them turns up dead. That's when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.Expertly alternating between flashbacks and the present day, The Chalk Man is the very best kind of suspense novel, one where every character is wonderfully fleshed out and compelling, where every mystery has a satisfying payoff, and where the twists will shock even the savviest reader.
I have noticed based on Goodreads reviews that The Chalk Man seems to be a fairly divisive story. This, combined with the fact that I never could get my hands on a Book of the Month copy before it sold out, let me to putting this chalky gentleman on the back burner. However, I saw a copy at my local 2nd & Charles and remembered that booksandlala liked it – I trust her thriller reviews with my life, so I picked up the copy along with a American Royals and brought it home. I figured it would be a quick read – even for me, queen of slowly reading everything – and at barely a hair over 300 pages soaking wet, it was. I really enjoyed my time with The Chalk Man, but something about it didn’t quite sit right either.
How I’d Describe This Book to a Friend
Have you read, or seen, Stephen King’s IT? What about Stranger Things? Pretty much anything about a gang of boys with their token female friend set loose in their hometown in the 80s? Then you know the basic premise of The Chalk Man already! It delights in maintaining POV consistently, however the story flip-flops from 1986 to 2016 – our narrator, Eddie, is one of this gang of misfits and tells us what happened back in ’86, contrasting it to how he is now. In the past, Eddie seems like a fun friend – he has a crush on their tomboy lady-friend, he plays with his friend’s dog, he shoplifts little objects and compulsively hides them. But flash-forward to 2016 and Eddie is a functional alcoholic who barely sees or speaks to any of his childhood friends, and is intent on keeping some deep dark secret at bay from his childhood.
A well-intentioned (well, kinda, I guess) new teacher at their school suggests offhandedly to Eddie one day that he and his friends used to use sidewalk chalk to leave notes for each other – a secret language only their gang could decipher. Eddie takes this concept to his buddies, and they spend the entire summer drawing chalk figures, secret symbols to mean “meet me at the playground” or “hey, let’s go to the woods” – only they knew what the colors and symbols meant. But one day, Eddie and his friends all receive the same drawing – from each other. And it leads them into the woods, where they discover a dead body. They are never quite the same after that.
And in 2016, decades after the murder, after Eddie thinks he has finally put this well and truly behind him, another chalk drawing turns up – this one has a noose around its neck. Only this time, Eddie is sure it wasn’t himself or his friends behind it. Eddie might know a bit more than he is letting on when it comes to the murder they found 30 years ago, too, but he’s not talking about it. Well, now he might have to, if the chalk men have anything to say about it …
The Bottom Line
Everyone in this story is morally grey. Everyone. Eddie, his friends, the adults in his life – nobody does not suck in some way. This is realistic, is the good news – the bad news is that it makes it impossible to trust anyone. Eddie’s mother is an abortionist, and his father is a struggling writer. His friends are teenagers and have all of that teenage sass and drama that comes part and parcel with it, and you have a hard time understanding who is hiding something and who is just having a rough day.
The main problem I have with The Chalk Man is that while many loose ends get tied up, a whole host of them doesn’t. There are, let’s say, 30 mysteries in this thriller – we get resolution for maybe 22-24 of them. But those others are a doozy that we sure could use the help with. There are some implications, but I could spend hours debating them.
Overall, this was a fun debut novel and I had a great time guessing the “whodunnit” aspects. However, I just wish we’d gotten an entire resolution for this one. This is one of those thrillers that I genuinely enjoyed, but I can’t say much because it’ll give away major plot points. Let me just say that if you can suspend disbelief, and you don’t get too caught up in minutae, you’ll really like The Chalk Man. If you do get caught up in minutae, you’ll still enjoy your time with Eddie and the gang – just not quite as much.
“Being an adult is only an illusion. When it comes down to it I’m not sure any of us ever really grow up.”
“What shapes us is not always our achievements but our omissions. Not lies; simply the truths we don’t tell.”