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.

The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz

Recently, a friend mentioned she was reading The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz.  Whether through grief, marital breakdown, family, health, financial or career crises,  everyone experiences difficulties in life. And, at times, it is difficult to know what to do for the best. We can’t always discuss problems with family or friends.

Striking a chord

Grosz is a psychoanalyst so his thoughts and insights are interesting. The Examined Life is a series of  short stories based on cases he encountered during his years in practice. The individual stories are quite different but aspects of them will strike a chord for many people — either with their personal experience or experiences of friends or family.

At times, I found his observations surprising. And at times, the problems don’t seem significant enough to warrant so much therapy time. I was  frustrated that the problems didn’t always have clear solutions or resolutions. However, despite these reservations, I liked this book.  The individual stories are short but I took my time reading them because I wanted to think about each problem and solution before moving on to the next. If you’re interested in what makes people tick, I think The Examined Life is worth a read. I bought the Kindle edition.