I read C J Tudor’s critically acclaimed debut “The Chalk Man” (2018) earlier this year. It was a book that became a word of mouth hit and I realised I was missing out when I saw it appearing on a number of “Best Of The Year” lists. I really liked the tense atmosphere she created throughout and the touches of horror and these aspects are all present and correct in her second novel.
I began this as an exercise in listening. A free month’s trial for Audible was initiated when I saw this was available so soon after publication. It is narrated by Richard Armitage who has a very listenable voice and despite me never being successful at committing to audio books (Susan Hill’s slim “The Printer’s Devil Court” being the only one I’ve managed to listen to all the way through) I was determined to let Tudor’s easy approachable style be read to me. I was enjoying the narration very much but it all just takes too long. I don’t have ten hours listening time and because audio is new to me I have to really concentrate on it (of course, being male means multi-tasking and doing something else whilst listening is out of the question!). I was also having to take notes at the end of every chapter, realising how much I must flick back in a physical book to check things. I did, however, get well over half-way through and then I discovered a hardback copy in the library. I did try to resist but couldn’t so checked it out and finished it off. (I’ve also just cancelled my Audible trial- once again I’ve tried and been found wanting.)
The novel is set in the ex-mining village of Arnhill in Nottinghamshire, a location similar to where the author grew up. Like “The Chalk Man” there are two time zones, a present day narrative and one set in 1992 when the main protagonists were in their teens.
There’s a grisly opening of a discovery of bodies in a cottage (which certainly spooked me listening to it) then it settles into a plot where Joe Thorne returns to Arnhill and engineers himself a teaching post at his old school. He has come back in an attempt to put to rest trauma in his past- the disappearance and eventual death of his eight year old sister which occurred when he was fifteen. The combination of the crime novel and horror is not as balanced as it was in “The Chalk Man” with the latter taking precedence. Horror writing gives the text an openness which the crime novel with its demands to be tied up neatly to provide a satisfactory experience tends not to do. The unexplainable horror touches comes from the old pit itself which has a history of being involved in disappearance and death and which commands a dark presence over the plot.
If anything, the tale here is darker than “The Chalk Man”. There is the odd flash of humour but this is generally black, bitter and barbed. This has the effect of not making this novel seem as multi-layered nor as rich as its predecessor where the language felt more vibrant and less on one level. Also readers who need to like their characters will struggle as not even main protagonist Joe comes across as having that many redeeming features. There are aspects to the plot, particularly with regards to backstory events in Joe’s adulthood that seem underwritten and not as convincing. As a result I did not feel as drawn into this world as I had with “The Chalk Man” but this is still an involving read, showing once again the author’s skill with tension and building up a creepy atmosphere.
I read the Michael Joseph published hardback version of “The Taking Of Annie Thorne” which was published in February 2019. In the US it has been published as “The Other People”. A paperback version is due to be published by Penguin in July 2019.