Thirty years ago, five misfits banded together while growing up in the small town of Anderbury. Eddie, Mickey, Hoppo, Gav, & Nicky weren’t cool or popular. And sometimes they didn’t even like each other all that much. They shared adventures, pranks & secrets. They even had their own way of communicating by leaving chalk stick figures for each other on pavement & fence posts.
Looking back, it’s hard to pinpoint when it all began. Maybe it was the summer of 1986. That was when new teacher Mr. Halloran came to town. And when Eddie, Mickey, Hoppo & Gav found the body.
In the present, Ed is a bachelor still living in the same house. His days are spent teaching at the local school & occasionally meeting Hoppo & Gav for a pint. He’s a quiet, solitary man who rarely thinks about that summer. But someone wants to jog his memory. Ed receives a letter with only the drawing of a stickman in a noose & a piece of chalk. Then Mickey suddenly reappears on his doorstep after a long absence. And he’s got a proposition. Somehow you know this won’t end well.
Not another peep about the plot. It’s layered with so many twists that it’s better you go in blind to get the biggest bang for your buck. All you need to know is this is a fabulous read. The past & the present are told in alternate time lines. As we follow Ed the adult, we slowly learn what happened to those kids 30 years ago. And it’s quite a tale.
Chapters set in the past will feel familiar to anyone who grew up in a small town. There’s a clannish culture where everyone knows your business & outsiders are viewed with suspicion. We get to peek over their shoulders as the kids struggle to fit in & deal with family problems while something sinister stalks them from the shadows. Each character has such a distinct personality that they pop off the page fully formed as you meet.
There’s a definite Stephen King vibe to the story & it reminded me of the movie “Stand By Me” which was based on on his novella “The Body”. But the creepiness is balanced by humour, heartbreak & poignant moments that resonate as they remind you what it was like to be 12. With the possible exception of finding a body…you probably missed out on that.
After the chalk man arrives, Ed is forced to remember what it was like to be Eddie. As he sifts through events from that pivotal summer, he reexamines his own actions & how they affected the terrible crimes. Looking back with adult eyes, he sees things he couldn’t understand as a child. And he realizes he is surrounded by people who have kept their own secrets for decades.
This is a spooky, addictive read that forces me to trot out that tired old phrase….I couldn’t put it down. It’s a gripping mix of chilling suspense & coming-of-age. And it’s not just great story telling. Once finished, I found myself thinking about memories & how they can be coloured by a specific place & time. Why I can remember a throw-away moment so clearly while something others would deem significant is a blur. It’s a running theme on several levels from beginning to end where the author takes one final jab at your heart on the very last page.
I’m now officially freaked out by stick men. And…sorry kids…henceforth, all chalk is banished. So speaketh the boss.