Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates Download (read online) free eBook .pdf.epub.kindle

Black Chalk

It was only ever meant to be a game played by six best friends in their first year at Oxford University; a game of consequences, silly forfeits, and childish dares. But then the game changed: The stakes grew higher and the dares more personal and more humiliating, finally evolving into a vicious struggle with unpredictable and tragic results. Now, fourteen years later, the

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    karen

    He would force himself to make friends with one British student at Pitt. Because any friendship was a path and paths always led elsewhere. To more paths and new places. Maybe even a better kind of life. And then, if he could only find a new world, Chad would skip down its lanes. Wherever they took him.

    ahhhh, famous last words….

    this is one of those cases where i feel i have to remind people that three stars from me is not a low rating. three is my broadest range of star-distribution, and this one

    ahhhh, famous last words….

    this is one of those cases where i feel i have to remind people that three stars from me is not a low rating. three is my broadest range of star-distribution, and this one falls on the higher end of the spectrum. there are a few things about it that frustrated the hell out of me, but is a true psychological suspense page-turner, and a hell of a mental ride.

    the opening is great – we have a man living in hermitical squalor, trapped in a web of OCD-routines and a mental disturbance so profound he has had to develop physical mnemonic devices to remind himself to even put on clothes. or eat. he has not been outside of his new york apartment in three years beyond going to the bodega for necessary supplies. he receives a troubling phone call that reminds him of something he has willed himself to forget, and we’re off!

    from there, the story flips between the narrator in present-day, and his experiences 14 years ago when he was a student at oxford. It’s a sort of The Secret History scenario:

    smart, poorly adjusted kids on campus, who think they are better than everyone else, set apart from the herd with a dynamic charismatic boy at the group’s center, a seemingly “less-than-the-others” outsider boy latching on to the group’s chemistry, wanting inclusion, secret meetings and activities that eventually end in tragedy – textbook secret history.

    this one offers a twist – a game of psychological manipulation that is devised by the group whose escalating dares and pranks and enforced secrecy are overseen by a shadow society offering a cash prize for the eventual winner.

    the mechanics of the game itself are vague; cards, dice, folded pieces of paper in cups, but the consequences are not. not at all.

    and they will ultimately rock the very foundation of the group, expose their insecurities, and go very dark.

    the thing that secret history-ish books don’t always get is that one of the things that makes sh so good is how slowly it starts, how much of the beginning is character development. and while we get some highly detailed insight into two of the characters, many of the others are pretty stock: comic relief, dreamy damaged girl, beautiful tough girl, socially-challenged genius, bitter homosexual etc.

    so while it is a psychological story at its core, it is much more plot-driven than character-driven, which leaves it a little lopsided.

    its strength is in its structure. we have several layers of unreliability here. a purported narrator, telling the stories both of his time in college, playing the game, and his life today, which has been completely destroyed by the game’s fallout. within his own written narrative he inserts a “secret” narrative, which was not as cool a device as it could have been, as it was very one-note; focusing on only one particular drive. then, a sweet twist in the narrative adds on a whole other layer of unreliability, which was a very cool move, and made some of the reader head-scratching about the seeming om-narr stuff in the initial chapters make sense. but also makes its own “but, waits…”

    still – pretty sweet.

    some of my frustrations: the ominous role of the shadow society is strongly hinted at, but never fully explored, and the final “win” of the game is too easy. it has that feel of how vincent d’onofrio can always elicit a confession by just a couple of leading questions to the dramatic swelling of the l&o music – the person in question here breaks too easily, despite what we know about their background. it can’t come down to that. but it does.

    and just a personal gripe: there is a sort of byron shout-out:

    He passed Bethlehem College and then St. Christopher’s where a famous English poet had kept a bear in his room after the college had banned the keeping of dogs.

    which i assume was meant to be byron, unless this is a common occurrence among british poets, but it actually happened at trinity college at cambridge, not oxford. but it’s not the worst ever byron-error in literature.

    oh, and a super-minor gripe, but i stumbled over the name “jolyon” every single time. every time.

    overall, a really solid read about psychological warfare and group dynamics and a new spin on a type of book i eat up like candy beans. worth the read.

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    Delee


    Anyone who doesn’t see the danger in an “innocent” board-game played between loved ones- has never played Risk with my father and I. It wasn’t pretty, and friends who occasionally joined in- would usually get to see a whoooooooooole new side to my family. Alliances were formed…there was sometimes yelling and pleading. And by the end- it was almost always down to me and my dad- both of us ignoring everyone around us- “It’s just a game!”, “I’ve had enough”, “This is stupid” “I’m going to bed” “C

    [image error] photo 0e8f90e7-c4be-4b7a-b012-773a1f0d85e1_zps12a793f7.jpg

    Set in the 1990s- Oxford University. Newly acquainted- Chad- a shy American student studying abroad and -Jolyon- a charismatic law student- meet and soon become inseparable. As the weeks go by an idea for a game forms, and four other friends are gathered to join in on the “fun”. Jack- the sarcastic kidder, Emilia- the beautiful and sensitive love interest of both Chad and Jolyon, Mark- the clever sleepy “Mad Scientist”, and Cassie/Dee- the odd suicidal poet.

    [image error] photo 6de3180c-137e-48b6-b436-f4915c76ee76_zps32b0fe33.jpg

    The Game- a roll of the dice- dares and consequences, with a money prize for the last man/woman standing. £1000 put up by each player- £10,000 put up by three mysterious young men only known to the players- as tallest, medium, and shortest. It starts off as a lively amusing competition…but as the months pass- trust is broken, friendships are torn apart, and one of the six ends up dead.

    [image error] photo cc8f9563-1d85-4f49-ae7a-135ec831432e_zps156b5161.jpg

    Fourteen years later- New York City- One of the players is living a reclusive existence – only leaving his Manhattan apartment for the necessities- food, alcohol, and meds. OCD has taken over and he uses mnemonic devices to remind him of his daily routine….But that routine is broken when he receives a troubling phone call and learns that The Game is far from over…

    [image error] photo e3c641af-0a25-42af-a52c-f9b184c84dad_zpsdf323e2b.jpg

    BLACK CHALK flips between the narrator/present-day, and fourteen years ago when he and his friends were students at oxford- A clever psychological thriller- full of twists, turns and loads of suspense right to the very end.

    *Received copy from Netgalley in exchange for review.
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    Sean Gibson

    Oct 24, 2016

    rated it
    really liked it

    There’s an inherently difficult challenge in writing a taut thriller by simple virtue of the fact that, in the vast majority of cases, the revelation of a thing is always less scary/creepy/horrifying than the imagining of the thing prior to its revelation (insert joke here re: except in the case of the removal of my pants).

    As a writer, then, you’re faced with three options, and it’s how you balance those options that determines success (or lack thereof) in terms of keeping readers riveted.

    The

    As a writer, then, you’re faced with three options, and it’s how you balance those options that determines success (or lack thereof) in terms of keeping readers riveted.

    The first option is to acknowledge and accept that challenge, make your reveals early, and then focus your efforts on how characters deal with those revelations.

    The second option is to hold readers in suspense as long as possible, taking advantage of the natural tension and buildup a reader’s imagination will create in the face of the unknown, and then make the big reveal at story’s end, hoping that the memory of that intense buildup will outweigh the inevitable letdown in the face of the revelation.

    The third option is to never make the revelation at all, and simply let readers speculate in perpetuity—this option can, of course, preserve dramatic tension, but also risks infuriating those who seek answers (and, possibly, prompting those of a less stable mental and emotional bent to go Misery on you if you’re the author, which seems to me, not having a fetish particularly well suited to that potential outcome, suboptimal).

    The best thrillers, which generally include multiple major revelations (or “gasp points,” as I like to think of them), deploy a combination of all three strategies, making minor reveals early to scratch the knowledge itch, holding a major revelation in reserve until the very last moment, and leaving some things to the imagination.

    Black Chalk expertly mixes all three approaches; the only problem is that the underlying premise, the framework upon which all of those revelations are built, is relatively flimsy, meaning that if you can’t get past the fact that a very intriguing story depends on six bright but hormonal college-aged friends remaining psychotically committed to a game that not only tears them apart as friends, but puts their lifelong happiness at risk, then you’re not likely to enjoy it to the fullest possible degree.

    Assuming, however, you can get past that trifling issue (and for many readers, willing suspension of disbelief truly is a trifling issue, because the entire thriller genre rests, by and large, on a reading public willing to lobotomize what is technically known to neurologists as the “Oh, COME ON” (or “bullus shittus,” if you want to use the Latin term) part of the brain for the duration of time spent reading a given story—note that I don’t say that critically (after all, I wrote an entire book about Arthurian magic being used in Victorian England, for Pete’s sake (that would be The Camelot Shadow, which you’d be a fool not to read if you love disengaging your brain from anything resembling rational thought); I simply note it as a prerequisite for full enjoyment of this sort of tale), Black Chalk is both an entertaining and rewarding read. The plot is, by and large, taut and twisty (even if the setting is not entirely original), and the execution admirable.

    A few words of warning, or perhaps endorsement depending on your perspective: this is a story with an unreliable narrator, and multiple unreliable narrators at that. So, if you’re the kind of person who gets frustrated when you can’t trust anything anyone says (and finds changes in narrative voice jarring), this may not be your mug of Lipton (I didn’t have any issues with it, but can see how it would be frustrating for some). Also, pretty much every character has some reprehensible quality (or qualities), so there’s not really anyone worth rooting for—a situation I tend to find frustrating, though I didn’t mind it as much here because the plotting is strong.

    In keeping with a recent, albeit inadvertent, reading theme for me, the bulk of the action in this story is set in a time and place when the interwebs and cell phones couldn’t affect the plot and, as in those prior instances, I continue to find this both refreshing and a huge relief. I know, I know, I’m a reactionary luddite, but there’s something so incredibly appealing to me about being able to slip back into a situation where answers weren’t a few keystrokes away, and where the outside world could not, for better or worse, easily intrude upon the story at hand.

    Bottom line: if you’re looking for a twisty little thriller that will keep you deeply engaged and churning pages despite having some stylistic quirks and dropping a few minor plot threads here and there, this is a book well worth checking out.

    (Thanks to Kelly (aka KAPOWSKI) for the buddy read—especially given the Herculean effort required to locate the book amidst the box-strewn aftermath of your move.)
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