Reading has been very hit-and-miss for me this year, blame the pandemic, blame my own demons, blame life, but for whatever reason, while I’ve never been the fastest reader, I have really struggled reading since the end of 2020. So, as I have taken a step back from blogging (I still post occasionally) I decided to reread a trio of my favourite books from the last few years, The Whisper Man by Alex North, The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor and The Taking of Annie Thorne also by CJ Tudor.
Side note: I should perhaps apologise to both of the authors as I have an ARC of The Burning Girls by CJ Tudor, her latest book that was out in January and I am yet to read. I also have a hardback copy of The Shadow Friend (that I purchased myself) by Alex North and well, the paperback version of that was out the other week. Tudor and North are two of my favourite authors and I really need to get my arse in gear and read both.
Until then, I absolutely loved each of The Whisper Man, The Chalk Man and The Taking of Annie Thorne the first time that I read them and they ALL made my favourite book of the year lists for the year in which they were released. It was an immense pleasure to reread the three books and once again delve into the darkness that North and Tudor create. The books lost nothing on the reread and I enjoyed them just as much as the first time that I read them, pure quality. If you want to see if the psychological thriller (tinged with hints of the supernatural) is a genre for you, then simply, give one of these books a try they are each a perfect example.
After finishing each of the books I reread my original review and I firmly stand by my thoughts and the words that I wrote for them the first time around. I will include a snippet of my original review (I’m lazy, I can’t be bothered to write new words and well, the remake is never as good as the original) with a link to the full review for each book, and I hope that at least one of the books piques your interest. 🙂
The Whisper Man by Alex North.
Find my full review – !!HERE!!
After suffering a family bereavement, the devastating and sudden loss of his wife ten months ago Tom Kennedy and Jake, his young son relocate to the picturesque and quiet village of Featherbank. The move is a chance to try and heal, to try and move forward, not forgetting but trying to live again, to put the broken pieces back together and to begin anew. Tom is unaware of the history of the area, the rumours of the ‘creepy‘ house that he buys and of the sinister history of ‘The Whisper Man‘ that haunts Featherbank.
A boy has recently gone missing in Featherbank and the disappearance bears all of the hallmarks of a serial killer who, 15 years ago abducted and murdered five young boys. Before they went missing, the boys all heard a whispering at their window and due to that, Frank Carter, the killer was dubbed ‘The Whisper Man‘. The Whisper Man was caught and since then he has spent the following years in jail, behind bars and locked away. But now, there are echoes of the past and Jake starts hearing a voice whispering at his window.
Jake doesn’t have many friends and he isn’t a social child. He’s sensitive, timid, quiet and withdrawn. He’d rather draw than play sports. He is an outsider who talks to himself, to his imaginary friends. He also has his ‘Packet of Special Things’ a collection of random items that hold great meaning to him, that anchor him and that calms him. Jake’s imaginary friends add a hint of the supernatural to the story as they seem more than just creations born from his own mind. Are they out to harm him? To hurt him? Or, are they there to help him? To protect him?
The Whisper Man is more than just a thriller, it’s a look into dark and fractured minds, into family and the ties that bind. It is a look into the struggles of fatherhood, the complexities of and the difficulties of the relationships between fathers and their sons. The Whisper Man niggles away at you, the disquiet of the story, playing on your mind, burrowing under, unnerving you like cold fingers that caress and that make your skin tingle. The story is fast-paced with shocking twists along the way and ramps up to breakneck pacing near the end. The writing by North is stellar, poetic and thought-provoking with emotions that are tangible upon the pages.
It is the power of the writer, of their words and of their stories to fully transport you into their work. Some books you read and some you experience. The Whisper Man is one such book and transcends simply ‘reading’ to a deeper more profound level. It will chill you to the core while simultaneously thawing your heart (for little Jake your heart will outright break, it will shatter to pieces). It is more than mere characters on a page and more than just a story being told. It is a book that resonates with the reader. You live and breathe the atmosphere, the chills, the tension and the emotion. The characters feel real, you care about them and about the outcome. There’s a depth to North’s creation and an emotional impact to the story that lingers long after you have turned the final page.
The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor.
Find my full review – !!HERE!!
The story in The Chalk Man is told from dual timelines that alternate in the book and are separated by thirty years. One takes place in 1986 and the other in 2016. The bridge that ties these two together is the narrator of the book, Eddie/Ed.
In 1986 Eddie is a twelve-year-old adolescent. His group of friends consist of Fat Gav, Metal Mickey, Hoppo and Nicky. They live in the town of Anderbury and get up to the usual things kids do, riding bikes, building dens, exploring, adventuring, messing around and generally just having fun. It’s the summer school holidays and they are just kids being kids.
After receiving a chalk man drawing arranging a meet the group all meet up together. Only, the chalk men summoning them weren’t drawn by any of the group! They then follow a trail of the mysterious chalk men messages into the woods where a mutilated body is found.
In the 2016 timeline Eddie now Ed is a forty-two-year-old adult. Ed is an English teacher, a loner who keeps to himself and lives with a lodger still in his family home in Anderbury. The group (mostly) still keep in touch but they aren’t as close as when they were kids and life, time and the events of the past have gotten in the way of their friendship. Thirty years have passed since the tragic events of 1986 and it’s firmly locked in the back of Ed’s mind. That is until one morning he receives a letter in the mail containing a piece of white chalk and a drawing of a chalk man. He hopes it’s a joke, a prank by someone simply trying to get a laugh at his expense but his friends have also received anonymous chalk man letters too. It isn’t a joke and the past rears its head coming back to haunt them as once again a murder is committed. Ed finds himself drawn back to the tragic events of thirty years before. Delving into the past and looking for answers to what really happened in 1986 as secrets unfold and the truth is finally uncovered.
Tudor has a suspenseful style of storytelling that is laced with the occasional usage of dark humour and she manages to constantly pique your interest. Regardless of which timeline you have just read you’ll find a sentence or snippet at the end of each chapter that implies that there is more to something that’s previously been revealed or alludes to something yet to come. It’s a fantastic approach by Tudor that is well-executed, hooks you and serves to keep you eager to find out what happens next always leaving you wanting to find out a little bit more about the story.
Oh boy, what an ending! Tudor ties things up nicely whilst simultaneously leaving you enough for you to use your imagination and come to your own conclusions but damn! It’s a chilling final chapter that will stay with you for days afterwards and you are not expecting THAT!
The Taking of Annie Thorne by CJ Tudor.
Find my full review – !!HERE!!
Joe Thorne, forty-years-old and running away from his gambling debts reluctantly moves back to Arnhill, his childhood home and the village that he left many years before. Taking a recently vacated position, a job teaching at the local school, Arnhill Academy.
Before this, however, Joe received an anonymous and mysterious email telling him that “I know what happened to your sister. It’s happening again.” But more than that, on a subconscious level and due to the past, Joe was, one day, always going to return to Arnhill as you can’t escape your past and also, the past shapes the present.
Twenty-five years ago, when Joe was a fifteen-year-old his eight-year-old sister, Annie, of the book’s title went missing for a forty-eight-hour period. Her absence went unexplained and Annie, herself couldn’t remember where she had been. On her return, she looked the same but she wasn’t and something in Annie had changed.
In 1992, as a teenager, Joe wasn’t one of the popular or cool kids. He was on the outskirts, an outcast who preferred comic books and video games to sports and spent large amounts of time with Annie, his younger sister. Then, Joe changed, joined a gang led by the local bad boy Stephen Hurst (Joe, Hurst, Fletcher and Chris aka Doughboy made up the gang along with Marie, Hurst’s girlfriend) and his time with Annie diminished. We get to see the gang’s school life, what they get up to and the Thorne family life too all adding to and building the picture of what really happened to Annie.
The Taking of Annie Thorne is chilling and compulsive in equal measure with something that prickles away, niggling at the back of your neck throughout its length. A sense of unease, a feeling of gathering dread, lurking in the background, creeping around, hiding in the shadows, a serpent ready to strike and the epilogue, well, the epilogue is fucking chilling. Like with the rest of the book, the horror is (mostly) understated but it is a nightmare’s nightmare and leaves you with a lingering sense of disquiet that ends The Taking of Annie Throne on an unsettling and unforgettable note.