I bring you the second book by an author whose debut novel I really enjoyed:
The Taking of Annie Thorne: The spine-tingling new thriller from the bestselling author of The Chalk Man by C. J. Tudor.
‘Some writers have it, and C. J. Tudor has it big time. The Taking of Annie Thorne is terrific in every way’ Lee Child
The new spine-tingling, sinister thriller from the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Chalk Man . . .
One night, Annie went missing.
Disappeared from her own bed. There were searches, appeals. Everyone thought the worst.
And then, after 48 hours, she came back.
But she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, say what had happened to her.
Something happened to my sister. I can’t explain what.
I just know that when she came back, she wasn’t the same.
She wasn’t my Annie.
I didn’t want to admit, even to myself, that sometimes I was scared to death of my own little sister.
‘Shows that her excellent The Chalk Man was no one-off in matching Stephen King for creepiness’ Sunday Express’s 2019 Bestseller Predictions
‘Written with such skill and fluency it’s hard to believe this is only her second book. Indeed I think it gives King a run for his money’ James Oswald
‘Dark, gothic and utterly compelling, The Taking of Annie Thorne pulls off a rare combination – an atmosphere of unsettling evil along with richly nuanced characterisation’ J. P. Delaney
‘Deliciously creepy, impeccably plotted and laced with both wicked humor and genuine shocks, this is the kind of read-under-the-covers thriller you didn’t think people wrote anymore. Lucky for us, C. J. Tudor still does. An absolute corker of a book’ Riley Sager, bestselling author of Final Girls and The Last Time I Lied
Praise for C. J. Tudor . . .
‘If you like my stuff, you’ll like this’ Stephen King
‘Wonderfully creepy – like a cold blade on the back of your neck’ Lee Child
‘A tense gripper with a leave-the-lights-on shock ending’ Sunday Times
‘A must-read for all horror fans’ Daily Express
Some writers have it, and some don’t. C. J. Tudor has it big time . . . The Taking of Annie Thorne is terrific in every way (Lee Child)
Shows that her excellent The Chalk Man was no one-off in matching Stephen King for creepiness (Sunday Express’s Bestseller Predictions 2019)
Dark, gothic and utterly compelling, The Taking of Annie Thorne pulls off a rare combination – an atmosphere of unsettling evil along with richly nuanced characterisation (J. P. Delaney, bestselling author of The Girl Before)
Tudor’s 2018 The Chalk Man was a standout mystery novel with a fresh voice and a spooky plot. This is even better (Washington Post)
Spine tinglingly good (Amy Lloyd, bestselling author of The Innocent Wife)
Deliciously creepy, impeccably plotted and laced with both wicked humor and genuine shocks, The Taking of Annie Thorne is the kind of read-under-the-covers thriller you didn’t think people wrote anymore. Lucky for us, C. J. Tudor still does. An absolute corker of a book (Riley Sager, New York Times bestselling author of Final Girls and The Last Time I Lied)
The Taking of Annie Thorne deserves every plaudit it receives (Richard Armitage, narrator of The Taking of Annie Thorne and star of The Hobbit)
Dark and creeping and utterly unpredictable, The Taking of Annie Thorne is another triumph of a novel by C J Tudor. With its compelling characters and witty writing, it grips from the very first page (Jenny Quintana, author of The Missing Girl)
Gripping and dark, The Taking of Annie Thorne descends like its very own mine shaft, getting creepier the further you go. You’ll race to the finish (Roz Nay bestselling author of Our Little Secret)
With shades of Pet Sematary and an all-round aura of creepiness, The Taking of Annie Thorne cements C. J. Tudor’s position as a major new talent at the dark heart of crime writing. Her characters are compelling, the village of Arnhill as atmospheric as its abandoned pit, and she possesses that rare ability to keep the reader turning the pages, desperate to discover what happens next. Brilliant (Fiona Cummins, author of Rattle)
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 . . .’
She is never knowingly over-dressed. She has never owned a handbag and the last time she wore heels (twelve years ago) she broke a tooth.
She loves The Killers, Foo Fighters and Frank Turner. Her favourite venue is Rock City.
Her favourite films are Ghostbusters and The Lost Boys. Her favourite authors are Stephen King, Michael Marshall, and Harlan Coben.
She is SO glad she was a teenager in the eighties.
She firmly believes that there are no finer meals than takeaway pizza and champagne, or chips with curry sauce after a night out.
Everyone calls her Caz.
I thank NetGalley and Penguin Random House UK (Claire Bush in particular) for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review. I had read and enjoyed C. J. Tudor’s previous novel The Chalk Man (you can read my review here), and I was eager to see what she’d follow it with.
I know I can go on in my reviews, so I’ve decided to cut to the chase, in case you’re in a hurry. Did I enjoy the novel? Yes. C. J. Tudor can definitely write and write well. But, if you are looking for an original story and something that will take you by surprise, this is not the book for you. That is particularly true if you’re a fan of Stephen King, although there are elements in the story that will be familiar also to people who watch a lot of movies, even if they don’t read King’s novels or his adaptations to screen (a somewhat difficult feat, I must admit). I’m not saying there are no surprising elements in the book, and there are quite a few twists and turns in it, but the general plot lines I think will be recognisable to many, especially to people who read this genre often.
In many ways, this book has much in common with the author’s first novel. The main character, Joe Thorne, is also a teacher, and far from an exemplary one. It is not so much his teaching that is at fault, but his drinking, his gambling, his lying… Yes, this is a morally dubious main character, who also narrates the story in the first person, and who, although we might or might not suspect this, to begin with, also belongs in the category of the unreliable narrator. He seems to freely share negative things about himself from the very beginning, but as the story moves on we realise that what he tells us might not be the whole truth. I won’t elaborate more on this, because there is a twist close to the end that puts things under an interesting light. Like in his previous novel, the author is also forced to look at things that happened years back, which involved him and his friends at the time.
I kept wondering what I thought about Joe, and I’m not sure I’ve decided yet. He is intelligent, witty, but has a penchant for getting himself into trouble, and although his way of using sarcasm to protect himself makes him rather amusing, there are moments when we glimpse at other aspects of his personality. He was a devoted brother, he was bullied and later joined the bullies’ gang, and he suffered terrible loses as a teenager, although… He struggles between trying to avoid tragedy repeating itself and trying to keep himself out of trouble, as he is being tracked by Gloria, who is intent on getting him to pay off his gambling debts, one way or another (I confess Gloria is my favourite character in the novel. I’m not sure if that says more about me or the novel, but she is fast, small but lethal, and you underestimate her at your peril). Joe tells the story of what is happening now when he returns to the town where he was born to take up a teaching job, because somebody has anonymously warned him that some pretty terrible things that happened when he was a teen have started happening again.
This is a trip back in time, and the narration of Joe’s current investigation and life (including living in a cottage where a murder-suicide took place) is interspersed with his memories of what happened to the Annie Thorne of the title, his little sister, who disappeared, returned (sort of), and then died in an accident that killed their father as well. (By the way, and just in case you read it or see it in some place, it seems the book was originally going to be published in the US as The Hiding Place, and I have seen some reviews on Goodreads under that title). There are many other characters in the novel, some that we meet in the past and the present (Joe’s friends and schoolmates, some still around, school staff members…), and some that are brand new, like some of the teachers (Beth is another one of my favourites). Although not all of them have big parts, and some are drawn only in outline, the author is very skilled at creating a sense of community and a believable, if creepy, small town. This mining community, with its challenges and changes over the years, comes to life, and despite the supernatural touches suffusing the story, the setting remains, mostly, well-grounded and realistic.
As I said at the beginning, the story is not very original. In some way,s it is like a collage of disparate elements many readers will recognise: the prologue brought to my mind Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and some other aspects of the story did as well (although there are no aliens, just in case), some reviewers mentioned The Tommyknockers (I hadn’t thought about it, but yes, in a way the connection in theme is also there), like her previous novel, some bits of it made me think of It, although the Stephen King novel it resembles the most is one whose new film adaptation is due out later this year (and I won’t mention it in case people are not familiar with it. It’s one of the first novels by King I read, and the first novel I read in English in its entirety, so it’s not one I’ve ever forgotten). There’s even a passing nudge at The Usual Suspects. Postmodernism is fond of pastiche, but it is normally used to emphasise the fact that the surface of an object or a creation is everything, and we can mix and match diverse elements without feeling obliged to refer to their original meaning or intent. I am not sure if C. J. Tudor would call her novel a pastiche, and she does give the stories and the characters her personal touch, but I can see the point of a reviewer who called it “fan fiction”.
The novel, as it is (and if you’re not familiar with King’s books all I’ve mentioned might not affect you at all), is full of atmosphere, quirky characters, some pretty dark moments, some that might be scary (I don’t scare easy, so I’m perhaps not the best person to comment), and some set pieces and scenes that are compelling and are easy to imagine as a film or TV adaptation. As I said, there are plenty of twists and turns, and the book is highly entertaining. There are many reflections that would make readers chuckle, even though sometimes we might also feel like telling the character to stop being so clever and get on with things.
I thought I’d share a few quotes, to give you an idea of the writing style:
“Finally, a long time since I’ve seen anything resembling civilization, or even a McDonald’s, I pass a crooked and weathered sign on my left: Arnhill welcomes you. Underneath, some eloquent little shit has added: to get fucked.”
“It is the sort of village that glowers at you when you arrive and spits on the ground in disgust when you leave.”
Here, Joe is talking to Beth about the teacher whose cottage he’s living in now. Beth is telling him she is fed-up with people asking if they had seen the tragedy coming, if there were any signs.
“Julia came into the school wearing a great big placard around her neck: ‘I intend to kill my son and myself. Have a nice day.’
“Well, politeness costs nothing.” (Joe replies).
On a more philosophical note:
“People say time is a great healer. They’re wrong. Time is simply a great eraser.”
So, this is a good read for lovers of thrillers with a touch of the supernatural and horror, but I’d be a bit wary of recommending it to enthusiastic readers of the genre or of Stephen King who are looking for something unique. But if you enjoy well-written stories in the genre and have fun looking for references and connections to well-known books and films, you will have a blast with this one.
Thanks to Penguin Random House, to the author, and to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and to keep smiling!