The Burning Girls by C. J. Tudor

For the second week in a row, I am featuring one of my top reads of 2022

I have been wanting to read The Chalk Man for a long time – in fact, my husband and I got it as a Book of the Month several years ago. For one reason or another, neither of us has read it yet. 

Anyway, C. J. Tudor was already on my radar. So went her newest book, The Burning Girls, sounded interesting, I put it on hold at my library. My hold came in almost right away, so I read it immediately. It was fantastic, through and through. A gripping, chilling thriller with well-developed characters that I didn’t want to put down. And now The Chalk Man is back at the top of my list. 

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

Mini Synopsis: Reverend Jack Brooks, teenager daughter Flo in tow, moves to a remote corner of the English countryside to replace the vicar after his sudden death. But the town – haunted by its dark history – is full of disturbing secrets, hidden violence, and malevolent ghosts.  

What I Liked About This Book: This book surprised me almost immediately, which was fun. I was able to predict a couple of the twists, but there were lots of surprises, too – which is always enjoyable. 

I loved the characters. Reverend Brooks is complex and relatable, despite being a vicar. I loved the depiction of a religious leader who struggles with the same things – parenting, interpersonal relationships, how to handle past trauma – that any layperson deals with. I know logically that religious leaders are human like the rest of us, but it was really a pleasure to read a book with a vicar as the protagonist. I like, too, that Reverend Brooks really seemed to be driven by a need to do the right thing, even if that thing wasn’t easy or popular. So many book characters make terrible decisions, and I found it refreshing to follow a character who was in pursuit of truth and justice even though it made life demonstrably more uncomfortable. 

Brooks’s daughter Flo is also a great character. She’s a teen who has to grapple with moving to a brand new home in a brand new town, trying to fit in with the local young people, and supporting a parent whose job means Flo is often alone and unsupervised. On top of that, Flo’s new home has some really dark energy that she tries to face with courage and common sense. She was a very well-crafted, believable teenage kid and I found myself really sympathizing with her situation and rooting for her.

The secondary and tertiary characters were excellent, too – awful and creepy and steeped in secrets in their own right. 

I loved the setting. There’s nothing better than a small English town with lots of dark history and hidden truths. 

And the writing was really done – evocative language, tight, effective scene-setting, insightful looks into people’s motivations. A very well-crafted novel.

What I Didn’t Like About This Book: One of the twists could have used, in my opinion, more of a build-up, more justification in advance of the reveal. For instance, there were a lot of subtle hints about one of the other twists – I picked up on it almost immediately and was delighted to have my hunch play out. This other twist seemed less… earned. It was still a good one, and I bought it. But if I were a beta reader, I would have suggested that the author drop a few more breadcrumbs about this particular twist. 

Should You Read This Book? If you like spooky thrillers, stories of complex parent/child relationships, creepy abandoned houses and ancient churches, small-town secrets, and generations-old mysteries, you will love this book. It was a top-notch thriller and I loved every minute of it. 

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