Written by: C.J. Tudor
Published by: Penguin UK – Michael Joseph
Synopsis: One night, Annie went missing. Disappeared from her own bed. There were searches, appeals. Everyone thought the worst. And then, miraculously, after forty-eight 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.
The Taking of Annie Thorne is the follow-up to C.J. Tudor’s stunning debut novel The Chalk Man, which I reviewed on this blog last year. As with its predecessor, Tudor’s use of language allows her to create a genuinely unsettling thriller that spans across two time periods, revealing how the hidden secrets of childhood resurface and impact on the current day. The book shares a lot of the same DNA as The Chalk Man, even referencing the novel’s standout twist in a rather neat meta callout. However, while The Chalk Man was rooted in realism, The Taking of Annie Thorne pushes the boundary into the supernatural, hinting at mystical forces behind events. As well as crafting horrific sequences, laden with gory descriptions that crawl under the skin, Tudor is a master at drip-feeding clues and hints throughout the novel, knowing exactly how and when to reveal a plot point to the reader.
Tudor’s work is often compared to Stephen King, with the legendary author himself even proclaiming “If you like my stuff, you’ll like this” as a cover quote. The Chalk Man was reminiscent of Stand By Me and IT, whilst The Taking of Annie Thorne bears strong similarities to another of King’s books – however, to name the title might be considered a significant spoiler – if you really want to know, click here. Tudor manages to take King’s style of writing, particularly his horror, and adapt it to English shores – and to be quite honest, these are some of the best Stephen King books, not written by Stephen King. My only issue with The Taking of Annie Thorne is that it feels a bit too derivative of one of King’s books, which actually weakens the story. Tudor does introduce her own elements to the story, such as the loan shark angle, which does distinguish it slightly from King’s original novel, but it will be easy for critics to dismiss it as a copy.
The novel’s protagonist, Joe Thorne, is a complicated character – presented as both sympathetic and selfish. Despite the family tragedy that haunts his childhood, he returns to his childhood home for less than virtuous reasons and is immediately presented as a con artist. There are glimmers of responsibility seen, particularly when he gets a job as a teacher, but it is the character’s inability to face up to his actions that causes drama and conflict. The book’s ending is shocking and chaotic, and ultimately, the protagonist is the cause of much of the disaster that ensues. As with Eddie in The Chalk Man, Tudor is great at creating ‘unreliable narrators’ and revealing the imperfections of her leads.
Tudor also demonstrates an enviable ability to blend nostalgia and horror together in a toxic soup, haunting her protagonists with the actions of their youth. The small mining village of Arnhill is the archetypal creepy village, swallowing up the many tragedies and amplifying that atmosphere out into the residents. With Joe choosing the site of a horrific murder-suicide as his base of operations, Tudor has plenty of opportunities to scare the reader with psychological horror, blurring the line between the real and the imagined. The opening prologue is extremely grim and bleak as two police officers investigate a crime scene, setting the tone for the entire novel.
While Tudor excels in cultivating that ‘edge of your seat’ tension throughout the book, it was the brief sparks of action where when I found myself leaving finger-shaped indentations on the edge of my Kindle. One flashback scene, which evoked memories of The Exorcist, was extremely visceral in describing the violent behaviour of the possessed individual. The slow build-up, culminating in those vivid scares and bursts of violence, demonstrates the cinematic potential for The Taking of Annie Thorne. Even the ending, which is abrupt and shocking, would translate brilliantly to the screen – lingering in the mind long after the book has concluded.
As with The Chalk Man, Tudor attempts to deliver another last-minute reveal but it lacks the same impact as its predecessor and merely resulted in an intrigued eyebrow raise, rather than a jaw drop. The Taking of Annie Thorne suffers the fate of being compared to two books; fans of The Chalk Man will notice the similarities in Tudor’s writing style and naturally compare the two; and the specific plot of the book invites, unintentionally or not, comparison to a certain iconic Stephen King novel. Unfortunately, this is often the case for sophomore novels and while The Taking of Annie Thorne is a brilliant read in its own right, it does stand in the shadow of two other books. Brilliantly unsettling, and rich with horror, it is great to see C.J. Tudor grapple with more supernatural elements in her writing and she proves herself not to be a one-trick pony, and a wonderful new talent in British Horror Fiction.
Score – ★★★★
The Taking of Annie Thorne is available as an eBook from Amazon Kindle, or collected in paperback format on Amazon and all good bookstores. Tudor’s debut novel, The Chalk Man, is also still available.