The Chalk Man is a psychological thriller that I read a few years ago, that I rediscovered on my book shelf. The fact it was on my bookshelf is quite telling, as my bookshelf is like a treasured CD collection – only books I think deserve to be in my collection make the cut! I recalled that I enjoyed the book, but that it didn’t quite hit the mark in some ways, and I was keen to remind myself why and how.
The book flicks between 1986, when a group of school friends are twelve, and 2016, when the friends are now 42. The story is told from the first POV perspective of Edward who, in the 2016 world, is a disillusioned teacher, with no partner or children. As children, Ed and his friends discovered a body of a girl. Their albino teacher, Mr Halloran (aka The Chalk Man) was arrested for her murder, and he subsequently committed suicide. Nobody was ever charged with the murder, and it diminished to folklore. Now one of the friends, Mickey, has returned to the town, threatening to publish an article about who committed the murder. Before he can publish anything, Mickey is found dead in the river. And so a whole host of mysteries unravel.
As a writer, what inspired me about the book? First off, the title and the simplistic cover is a work of genius. Secondly, the writing is simplistic and engaging. Mr Halloran’s character is brilliant – he is creepy, but you feel for him. He seems like a decent man, and you long for him to be decent, but you are always left in doubt. The plot is clever and it is original enough to give it a go. The pace really picks up at the end, and once the first twist is revealed, it has a domino effect and they just keep coming.
As a writer, what might I have done differently? I always find that this is a difficult balancing act but, for me, flicking back to 1986 stunted the momentum of the current story. Flashbacks can be invaluable to provide back story and to add suspense, but it is all about timing and quantity.
The narrator, Ed, played the Average Joe role, but for me he didn’t have much depth. I love flawed characters, fighting demons, obsessions and addictions, but Ed wasn’t really flawed, he was just dull. That said, I don’t really thinking Ed was the driving force of the story, he was more of a prop.
I felt that the book could have been scarier, that it didn’t really build on the creepy premise. Additionally, I was curious to find out what happened next, but I wasn’t desperate to find out. Maybe a faster pace earlier on could have rectified this?
In summary, The Chalk Man is a very good book, and one I can definitely learn from. I just felt that there was a missed opportunity to be a great book.