Set partly in 1986 and partly in 2016, this sees reclusive schoolteacher Ed Adams reminisce about the events of the summer and fall when he was twelve and ran around the small town of Anderbury, not far from Bournemouth, with his little gang of pals: Fat Gav, Hoppo, Metal Mickey (whom no one really likes, but he’s a friend anyway) and the tomboy Nicky, for whom Eddie, as he then was, nurtured a secret passion.
And what a year it was! There was the dreadful accident at the carnival, where a teenager, Elisa, was hideously injured and Eddie and the new English teacher, Mr. Halloran, an albino (or Chalk Man), were the heroes who saved her leg and her life, although they couldn’t save her face. There were the right-to-lifers, stirred up by a local vicar — Nicky’s abusive father, in fact — protesting outside the abortion clinic run by Eddie’s mum, the brick through the window thrown by one of them . . . and worse. There was the teenage right-to-lifer who fell pregnant, at which point various tunes were changed. There was the drowning by mischance of Metal Mickey’s sociopathic bully of an elder brother, Sean. There was the savage assault on the vicar that sent him into care for the rest of his life.
And to cap it all there was the murder of a teenager, whose dismembered body was discovered in the woods by Eddie and his pals, led to it by a series of chalk drawings, because that was the summer they’d had the craze for leaving each other secret messages drawn in chalk.
Eddie was never very happy about the official explanation of the murder, and now it proves that neither was Mickey. The latter reckons he’s identified the real culprit, and seeks Ed’s help in writing a book about the case, in which there’s still periodic interest. But then Mickey, one drunken night, falls into the river and drowns, just like his brother did thirty years ago. But this time was it really just a ghastly accident? So Ed initiates his own investigation . . .
I’ve probably forgotten to include a dramatic event or three, but you’ll understand that, like Midsomer, Anderbury is one of those superficially peaceful corners of semi-rural England where the rates for life insurance are set really, really high. A couple of times I found myself rolling my eyes as things went over the top, but most of the time it all seemed plausible enough in a sort of Stephen Kingish way. That reference isn’t an idle one, by the way: even though there’s no supernatural here (although sometimes it seems there might be!), I was very much reminded of King’s general tenor.
Everything is quite superbly tied together at the end of this melodrama as we discover that, while all of the novel’s mysteries are linked, they don’t all necessarily have the same solution. (I can’t amplify that remark without wrecking the book for you.)
I found this a really gripping read, with the characters of the children particularly well portrayed, and am looking forward to what Tudor might come up with next.