An unconventional vicar moves to a remote corner of the English countryside, only to discover a community haunted by death and disappearances both past and present–and intent on keeping its dark secrets–in this explosive, unsettling thriller from acclaimed author C. J. Tudor.

Welcome to Chapel Croft. Five hundred years ago, eight protestant martyrs were burned at the stake here. Thirty years ago, two teenage girls disappeared without a trace. And two months ago, the vicar of the local parish killed himself.

Reverend Jack Brooks, a single parent with a fifteen-year-old daughter and a heavy conscience, arrives in the village hoping to make a fresh start and find some peace. Instead, Jack finds a town mired in secrecy and a strange welcome package: an old exorcism kit and a note quoting scripture. “But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed and hidden that will not be known.”

The more Jack and daughter Flo get acquainted with the town and its strange denizens, the deeper they are drawn into their rifts, mysteries, and suspicions. And when Flo is troubled by strange sightings in the old chapel, it becomes apparent that there are ghosts here that refuse to be laid to rest.

But uncovering the truth can be deadly in a village where everyone has something to protect, everyone has links with the village’s bloody past, and no one trusts an outsider. 

My Review

Oh my God what a brilliant book. To say I couldn’t put it down is no exaggeration. Especially at the end with so many unexpected twists and reveals I’m exhausted. One in particular I NEVER guessed – or maybe I wasn’t concentrating hard enough.

Reverend Jack Brooks has been asked to leave her parish in Nottingham under a cloud and move to a remote village in East Sussex. The chapel she is taking on has a chequered history from the eight martyrs burnt at the stake 500 years ago to the mysterious suicide of the previous vicar. However, these are just some of the mysteries the small village of Chapel Croft has to offer. And Jack has more than her own share of secrets which she is determined to keep hidden.

A strange tradition in Chapel Croft is known as the ‘burning girls’ where twig effigies are thrown on a bonfire every year to ‘celebrate’ – is that the right word – the burning of the Sussex Martyrs. Apparently if you see the burning girls, they are trying to tell you something and trying to protect you.

Now those familiar with the town of Lewes, also in East Sussex, will know about the town’s tradition of holding the largest and most famous bonfire night in the UK. Every year on 5th November, it is held partly to celebrate Guy Fawkes night and partly to commemorate the memory of the seventeen Protestant martyrs from the town burned at the stake for their faith during the Marian Persecutions.

But back to the story. Jack’s daughter Flo has been forced to leave her friends behind in Nottingham and is not happy. Till she meets Lucas Wrigley – a strange boy with a neurological condition called dystonia which causes sudden twitching and involuntary movements. A perfect target for the village bullies, as is newcomer Flo.

But is Wrigley the innocent boy Flo thinks and hopes he is? Why is everyone so in awe of wealthy, farm-owner Simon Harper and why does youngest daughter Poppy turn up covered in blood? And what happened to two missing girls Joy and Merry who disappeared thirty years ago – supposedly they ran away – and were never seen again?

All this but other threads too including an abusive childhood and a killer released from prison.

There is no let up in this story. No time to relax. The excitement is incessant. I absolutely loved this book. Murder, jealousy, supernatural hauntings – just up my street.

Some of my family live in East Sussex and I didn’t recognise Lewes as a kind of flowery-dresses-and-joss-sticks middle class Glastonbury or Eastbourne as a town with grey seas. I guess it’s a matter of perception.

Many thanks to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

About the Author

C. J. Tudor was born in Salisbury and grew up in Nottingham, where she still lives with her partner and young daughter.

She left school at sixteen and has had a variety of jobs over the years, including trainee reporter, radio scriptwriter, shop assistant, ad agency copywriter and voiceover.

In the early nineties, she fell into a job as a television presenter for a show on Channel 4 called Moviewatch. Although a terrible presenter, she got to interview acting legends such as Sigourney Weaver, Michael Douglas, Emma Thompson and Robin Williams. She also annoyed Tim Robbins by asking a question about Susan Sarandon’s breasts and was extremely flattered when Robert Downey Junior showed her his chest.

While writing The Chalk Man she ran a dog-walking business, walking over twenty dogs a week as well as looking after her little girl.

She’s been writing since she was a child but only knuckled down to it properly in her thirties. Her English teacher once told her that if she ‘did not become Prime Minister or a best-selling author’ he would be ‘very disappointed.’

The Chalk Man was inspired by a tub of chalks a friend bought for her daughter’s second birthday. One afternoon they drew chalk figures all over the driveway. Later that night she opened the back door to be confronted by weird stick men everywhere. In the dark, they looked incredibly sinister. She called to her partner: ‘These chalk men look really creepy in the dark . . .’

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