The Blurb On The Back:
One night, my little sister went missing. There were searches, appeals. Everyone thought the worst. And then, miraculously, she came back. She couldn’t, or wouldn’t, say what had happened. But she wasn’t the same afterwards. She wasn’t my Annie. Sometimes my own little sister scared me to death.
The email arrives in my inbox:
I know what happened to your sister. It’s happening again …
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
When Joe Thorne returns to the Nottinghamshire pit village he grew up in, it’s a homecoming driven by necessity more than nostalgia: a serious gambling problem has led to him owing money to some very bad people and he needs to find £30,000 fast.
He takes a job teaching at Arnhill Academy, rents a small and neglected cottage with a bad history and soon makes contact with his old school friends – Stephen Hurst (a successful businessman and local councillor), his wife Marie (who Joe had a crush on at school) and Fletch (Hurst’s muscle who works as a plumber) – and makes a new friend in fellow teacher Beth Grayson.
What no one knows though is that the reason why Joe was so keen to escape Arnhill is part of the reason he’s been pulled back. 20 years ago, his younger sister Annie disappeared from her room and when she was finally found a couple of days later, she was different – changed – and an anonymous email account has emailed him to say that the same thing is happening again …
C. J. Tudor’s second novel is a tightly plotted horror tale that gives more than a nod to Stephen King’s PET SEMETARY but which nevertheless has a distinctly British feel. The amoral and desperate Joe makes for an interesting protagonist and I liked Tudor’s depiction of a broken pit village while the supernatural elements are generally creepy. All in all, this is a great Halloween chiller and I will definitely check out THE CHALK MAN.
Tudor’s plotting of this book is superb. I really admired the way everything within it slots together, from Joe’s flashbacks to what happened when Annie disappeared to the circumstances leading to his return to Arnhill, and Tudor does a great job of maintaining the pace so that my interest never flagged. If you’re being picky then you might say that some of the events are too neat (e.g. the murder suicide that leads Joe to getting both a job and a home) but I don’t need my fiction to be as messy as real life is and, for me, it helped cement Joe’s interest in what happened.
Joe himself is not a character you can easily root for – a compulsive gambler with a tendency to drink too much he is very much the author of his own misfortune and clearly haunted by what happened to his sister. I enjoyed his banter with his Irish flat mate Brendan and the tension with fellow teacher Beth (who has secrets of her own), although I wished there’d been a little more interaction between Beth and Joe in the book because I think it would have fleshed out some of the background supernatural elements, which were slightly underdeveloped and end up being resolved only in passing.
Hurst is a little baldly drawn as an antagonist – a thug and a bully used to getting his own way no matter who he hurts. I would have liked to have seen more of his relationship with his wife Marie, which Tudor clearly intends to humanise him but Marie was underdeveloped on the page for me – little more than a love object for both men. Similarly Gloria, the enforcer sent to ensure that Joe pays his debt, is an entertaining plot device more than a character (although that wouldn’t stop me from reading a spin off about her adventures should Tudor decide to develop it).
The book owes more than a passing debt to PET SEMETARY but I actually didn’t mind that given how good the execution is and because I think Tudor does a good enough job of weaving in British history to make the concept her own. I would have liked a little more on the page of how Annie changed after her return, although what’s there is definitely creepy.
Ultimately, I found this an entertaining and unsettling horror read and I will definitely check out THE CHALK MAN on the back of it.