cover image Black Chalk

Black Chalk

Christopher J. Yates. Harvill Secker (IPG, dist.), $17.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-84655-728-6

Psychological thrillers don’t get much more complex or twisted than Yates’s promising debut. In 1990, six Oxford first-years decide to create and participate in an elaborate mind game. Intrigued by the exclusiveness of a club known as the Games Soc, two of the six, Chad Mason and Jolyon Johnson, improvise a proposal that piques the interest of the club’s three leaders. Participants in the game must carry out “psychological dares, challenges designed to see how much embarrassment and humiliation the players can stand.” From the opening lines, it’s clear that the game ends badly, given that the initially anonymous narrator describes his account, written 14 years later, as a confession. The narrator’s unreliability is established early on with his assurance that he “absolutely” is not trying to trick the reader. Yates deftly interweaves past and present as he doles out the backstory in pieces without sacrificing plausible character development. Agent: Jessica Papin, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Apr.)