With The Chalk Man, C.J. Tudor has crafted a slick, razor-sharp novel of psychological suspense, which dangled the possibility of a supernatural influence on the events that transpired sparingly enough to keep the story rooted in reality. Her sophomore novel, The Taking of Annie Thorne, suffuses classic Stephen King horror with small town noir. It’s a creepy, propulsive crime novel that whisks readers into a nightmare realm; a tiny mining village called Arnhill, where children have demonstrated a tendency to disappear, then return, but different somehow, not quite themselves; dehumanised.
Published as The Hiding Place in the United States, Tudor’s second novel opens with two Arnhill cops navigating the scene of a horrific murder-suicide. A local, respected teacher has killed her boy, then herself, smearing “NOT MY SON” in blood on the wall. Which doesn’t stop Joseph Thorne — who called Arnhill home as a child — taking up residence in the cottage. Not that he can afford to be selective. Joe’s got the kind of gambling debt that could cripple a man — seriously, the loan shark he owes money to has a female enforcer who takes pleasure in dishing out pain — so the cheap rent works in his favour.
The catalyst for Joe’s return was a mysterious email that read, “I know what happened to your sister. It’s happening again.” The “it” in question was the murder-suicide at his new abode. Years back, when Joseph was a teenager, his sister Annie vanished while Joe and his pals explored a mineshaft that has always been the source of spine-tingling ghost stories. When Annie returned, she wasn’t the same. She looked identical to the sweet, doll-carrying girl who disappeared into the darkness; but there was toxicity coursing through her veins. The girl who returned was not the same, appearances be damned.
The Taking of Annie Thorne flits back and forth between events of the present day, and the traumatic circumstances of Annie’s disappearance and return. Joe is an interesting narrator; not particularly likable, extremely flawed, yet we root for him because what happened to his sister — this undefinable, unexplainable thing — has haunted Joe his whole life. It has followed him everywhere. It has damaged him, tormented him. We want to see it exorcised.
The plot thrums, the pace is frantic, and its climax is pitch-perfect and bloody. Tudor has embraced the “heir to Stephen King’ tag she established following the publication of The Chalk Man, and it’s earned. I feel like King would’ve marinated a little more on certain elements of this tale; controlled the pace, let the creepy vibe really settle into the readers’ bones. Delved a little more deeply into the townspeople; explored the intervening years, and perhaps extrapolated on the mysterious, dark force possessing Arnhill. The Taking of Annie Thorne is a helter-skelter, race-to-the-finish kind of horror novel, which makes it brilliantly readable — a one-sitting binge-read, if you’re so inclined — which distinguishes it from the grandmaster’s work. Like its predecessor, The Taking of Annie Thorne is immensely enjoyable.
Format: Paperback / softback
Imprint: Michael Joseph Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 21-Feb-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom