The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor

This description of The Chalk Man was what first drew me to C.J Tudor’s debut novel.

‘None of us ever agreed on the exact beginning. Was it when we started drawing the chalk figures, or when they started to appear on their own? Was it the terrible accident? Or when they found the first body?’

C.J. Tudor gets off to a strong start — so much so,  I read the first 30 percent of The Chalk Man in a single sitting.

The idea for The Chalk Man is intriguing and slightly scary.

The story opens when a dismembered body is found in the woods. Schoolboy Eddie Adams is the main narrator. He’s an interesting kid who observes a lot of what is going on around him even if he doesn’t always understand what he sees and hears.

Inspired by something a teacher says, Eddie gets the idea of drawing chalk men as a secret code. He and his friends then begin to use the code to leave messages for each other. They use different colours so as to distinguish who drew which message.

The timeline switches between 1986 and 2016. Apart from the discovery of the dismembered body, other troubling events take pace in 1986. Then, as adults, Eddie and his friends each receive a letter containing a chalk stick figure. The letters scare them for different reasons. Each has secrets from the past and reasons to fear discovery.

The more that I read, the more I found myself wondering about the intended audience of The Chalk Man. It may appeal more to the YA market than to adult readers. I felt the characters didn’t really develop as the story progressed. I found this frustrating, particularly in the second half of the book. More frustrating, though, is that when secrets are revealed, they don’t always live up to the promise of The Chalk Man’s strong opening.

That said, this is a fast read and received some great reviews on Goodreads.

[Disclosure: I read an advance copy via Netgalley]

Mary, Mary by Julie Parsons

I first came across Julie Parsons a few years ago when I read The Guilty Heart, a thriller about a father whose son disappeared.

Then, a few weeks ago, I saw a review of The Therapy House, which reminded me that I always meant to read more Parsons work so, I had a look in the local library and found her debut novel, Mary Mary.

Julie Parsons Mary MaryPublished in 1999 and set in Dublin, Mary Mary is a crime thriller.  It  begins when Margaret, a psychiatrist, calls the police because her daughter Mary is missing. The police think Margaret is overreacting until Mary’s body turns up in a canal, battered and lifeless.

As the hunt for Mary’s killer gets underway, questions arise about Margaret’s background. Who is Mary’s father? And why does Margaret not tell the police when she receives threatening phone calls?

Investigating the case is Detective Inspector Michael McLoughlin whose marriage is on the rocks and who develops an intense interest in Margaret.

Julie Parsons spins a complex tale

There are a lot of layers in Mary, Mary.  Julie Parsons spins a complex plot and writes beautifully. But I found it difficult to sustain interest in the characters, particularly in the first part of the book. And sometimes the descriptions of what the characters observe as they move around Dublin are a distraction that don’t seem to move the story forward. Part 2 is more engaging and produced unexpected twists as the story drew to a conclusion.

From the Shadows by Neil White

Although Neil White is a bestselling author, I hadn’t come across him until I saw From the Shadows on Netgalley. What drew me to the title was the description — “a gripping thriller”. In fact, it’s part murder mystery, part crime fiction, part thriller, part courtroom drama. All of which amounts to a good read once the story gets going.

So, what’s it about?

When criminal defence lawyer Dan Grant is asked to take over a case from another firm, he suspects there’s something unusual about the case.

Robert Carter is accused of murder. The court case is just two weeks away and Dan is supposed to just turn up, defend the client, and get paid. But that’s not Dan’s style. He wants to do his best for Carter, and that means investigating the case. Carter’s best chance of getting off is if Dan can show that someone else had the opportunity to commit the crime.

Time is very short so Dan needs help to build a case. He hires a former client, investigator Jayne Brett, to do some of the legwork.

Dangerous game

Once they begin to look into the case, they find that Carter is not the murderer. But everyone, including Carter, is reluctant to tell what they know and, before long, Dan and Jayne find that uncovering the truth is a dangerous game. Once they’ve started, however, they can’t let go until the job is done.

After a strong opening, From the Shadows takes a while to pick up pace. A couple of chapters in, it seems to settle down and from there on it’s a fairly engrossing read.

Dan and Jayne are a well-matched team and far and away the best characters in the novel. I’d happily follow them through further novels if White turns this into a series. That said, Neil White could have made From the Shadows a stronger story with a bit more insight into the background and motivations of the other main characters.

I’d like to have known more about Shelley, the solicitor who worked on Carter’s case before Dan took it over. What did she find out and who did she upset in the process? How come her firm’s conflict of interest only became an issue so late in the case? There was also scope to provide more detail on some of the other key players in this story — particularly the baddies. Nevertheless, From the Shadows is a decent read. If you like crime fiction, murder mysteries or courtroom dramas, keep an eye out for it.

From the Shadows by Neil White is published by Bonnier Zaffre. I read a Netgalley ARC.