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Black Chalk [Kindle Edition]

Christopher J. Yates
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A compulsively readable psychological thriller set in New York and at Oxford University, in which a group of six students play an elaborate game of dares and consequences with tragic results
 One game. Six students. Five survivors. 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, 14 years later, the remaining players must meet again for the final round. Who knows better than your best friends what would break you? A gripping psychological thriller partly inspired by the author's own time at Oxford University, this is perfect for fans of The Secret History and The Bellwether RevivalsThe author's background in puzzle writing and setting can clearly be seen in the plotting of this clever, tricky book that will keep readers guessing to the very end.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Arriving for classes at Oxford, a nervous American reaches out to a poor British student, and the two quickly become inseparable. During their first few days of settling in, the two invite four other friends to join them in a game of chance and daring with an enticing cash prize for the ultimate winner. Over many weeks of play, though, what began as a fun diversion escalates into a highly competitive contest with increasingly intolerable consequences. Before the school year is over, one of the friends is dead, and only two remain in the game, locked in a struggle to the bitter end. Though granted a 14-year respite, the time finally arrives for these two to resume play and determine a final winner and loser. While mysterious and unspoken threats lurk in the shadows, it’s the insidious devolving of friends and lovers that makes this psychological thriller so compelling. A broken narrative and careful pacing add to the chilling suspense. Full of cunning twists and turns, this intense page-turner practically demands a second reading. --Cortney Ophoff


"Narrated by an unhinged recluse, Black Chalk grabs from the get-go... Yates, a crossword-puzzle editor, plots with tantalizing skill." (People)

"Psychological thrillers don't get much more complex or twisted than Yates's promising debut. Yates deftly interweaves past and present as he doles out the backstory in pieces without sacrificing plausible character development." (Publishers Weekly starred review)

With this dark, sometimes disturbing tale, we may have found a new Stephen King, albeit with a British accent." (New York Post)

"Dark, twisty fun." (New York Daily News)

"An inventive and intricate psychological puzzle thriller that mystifies, torments, disturbs, beguiles... A powerfully intelligent debut" (The Times of London)

"What starts as almost idyllic recollections of making new friends in the famous halls of knowledge quickly turns sexy, then dark and brutal... Black Chalk is written with dark poetry; and though driven by dangerous desires, its characters are human, fresh, and alive." (Interview)

"Yates weaves his plotlines back and forth across time so alert readers can stay hot on his mystery trail (and if you're particularly good, you can guess the answer just a page or two before it's given to you)." (Huffington Post)

"Compelling" (The Guardian)

"Laced with convincing student dialogue this is a thriller, a cautionary tale and a sobering exploration of unintended consequences rolled into one." (Daily Mail)

"More twists and turns than a modern roller coaster." (New York Journal of Books)

"Yates' British take on the collegiate gothic thriller lives up to early comparisons to Donna Tartt's The Secret History... Filled with a gleeful malevolence." (Grazia)

Product Details

  • File Size: 1700 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital (September 19, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099581620
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099581628
  • ASIN: B00CZ7OC28
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #456,074 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By inb
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I can't recall the last time a book has so thoroughly dismantled my schedule. I couldn't work, errands were indefinitely postponed, someone must have fed my child—I simply couldn't put the book down.

The tale is so plausible. The characters? True people. Having gone to a boarding school, I felt like I could be a bystander within the story.

Now that I've finished, I am beginning to re-read. So many bits of nuance and layers of detail that I'm already wrapped in again!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Addictive and wonderfully twisty! September 19, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
One game. Six students. Five survivors.

At University, six friends come together and play a game. Its a silly little game imagined by two of their number - a game of actions followed by consequences growing ever more intricate in nature...with one winner to remain standing at the end. Fun. Oh yes. Or no. As the game becomes ever more involved, the stakes higher, the opponents becoming ever more competitive and adversarial, friendships will be destroyed and tragedy will strike. Watched over by the ever mysterious Game Soc, the players are pushed to their limits....just how far will they go and how much of their future will they sacrifice?

This story will sink into your subconcious.....written in a clever and compelling way the lines between fantasy and reality blur and you will never be quite sure where you are. The game itself is brilliantly imagined - it seems so innocuous and yet its insidious...when is the game being played exactly...and just how serious will the consequences be?

Another extremely clever aspect of this novel for me, is the way that the usual "twists" you would be expecting to come at the end, or as game changers somewhere in the middle are all over the place and intricately placed. In a way this is very much a character driven novel...Jolyon stands out as perhaps one of the most enthralling and unusual characters you will find in fiction - and the rest of the students in their own way are just as fascinating. Any one of them can walk away at any moment...but will they? Psychologically speaking they are all captivating - are any of them quite as they appear? Its very cunning writing...Insidious indeed.

As a mystery, it works on several levels. It will keep you guessing but not about the usual things perhaps.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
Black Chalk joins The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress as one of my favorite books I’ve read this year…and I will be including it to my Best Books of 2014 List at the end of the year.

Hmm – how to best describe this book (other than AWESOME!)? Think The Hunger Games meets The Secret History meets The Interestings. Though various elements of the story remind me of these books (all of which I loved), the overall combination is unlike anything I’ve ever read. The way the six friends get together at the beginning of the story – and particularly the intangible “intrigue” that attract them to each other – reminds me of The Interestings. The theme of a tight group of University friends doing some creepy, secret stuff reminds me of The Secret History. And, the game itself reminds me of a psychological version of The Hunger Games. Add in some smart social commentary and you have a winner!

Yates masterfully times the build-up to various critical revelations at perfect points throughout the book. You find out the answer to one big question and he is immediately onto the build-up to the next one. Yates’ background working in puzzle magazines (who knew such a thing even existed?!) probably contributed to his ability to weave this complicated web of strengths, weaknesses, secrets, allegiances, and betrayals in a way that seems so seamless to the reader.

The book opens with alternating segments of the six friends meeting and forming the idea for their Game and of one of the players (who has become a recluse) writing about the Game 14 years later. This player has been alerted that it is now, after 14 years, time to play the final that seems to terrorize him. And, here you have your first mystery…who is the recluse?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting idea, but problematic execution April 5, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
I received an electronic advanced reading copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley.

The summary description of "Black Chalk" enticed me with the novel's premise, yet it also made me wary with its comparisons to Donna Tartt's brilliant "The Secret History". Both of these initial impressions proved well-founded. Yates' debut novel is built around a terrific idea, the development and consequences of a cruel, high-stakes game developed by a group of college students. This period and setting of life, simultaneously a step forward into 'adulthood' and also a regression to child-like social mentalities, is prime both for literary exploration and construction of a wonderful thriller as Donna Tartt proved.

Whether Yates' work here is directly influenced by Tartt's novel or just bears chance similarities in plot, it is notable that the similarities between works are superficial, at the level of setting and general themes. In addition to a secretive group of intelligent, though naive, students, "Black Chalk" has the additional element of an enigmatic outside force shaping the start of events. "Game Club" as they are called, make one of the most intriguing aspects of the novel, yet its purpose and secret wind up being rather mundane, leaving this element sadly under-utilized.

Instead, "Black Chalk" focuses on the students, particularly the founding pair of the group, using a narrative structure of first person recounting prior events through third person. As the history is told, it becomes clear both who the narrator is and that he suffers from mental problems and drug side effects, suggesting his related information may be unreliable.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Twisted
A very twisted tale where events are unpredictable. A great read!
Published 3 months ago by John Olson
4.0 out of 5 stars XFORD + NEW YORK: "The right cocktail of people, the perfect blend for...
A novel for the turn of the 21st century - power, determination and gullibility. Chad, an American, arrives at Pitt College, Oxford (built in 1620 with requisite Gothic glories of... Read more
Published 4 months ago by TripFiction
5.0 out of 5 stars A dark paychological novel, set primarily at Oxford University ...
A dark paychological novel, set primarily at Oxford University, as well as New York years later. Following the story line challenged the intellect of this reader, while... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Pete Koenig
3.0 out of 5 stars it was interesting
I liked this book but I found it difficult to follow at times. It went back and forth in time a lot and it was being told as a narrative. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Jodi L Wolf
4.0 out of 5 stars A sucker for books about psychological games
It felt like there were some unresolved threads, and I didn't feel the Perfect Click that an utterly satisfying ending gives me, but I am still happy.
Published 7 months ago by Christopher Bird
2.0 out of 5 stars A Frustrating Read, Difficult to Connect
I have had to let this book settle on me for a few hours before doing this review. I had such high hopes starting this book based on the synopsis, I thought it sounded... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Maxine (Booklover Catlady)
3.0 out of 5 stars Elegant and often brilliantly written
Elegant and often brilliantly written. Has a bit of Finnegan's Wake-ish opacity. More of a literary thriller.
Published 8 months ago by Edward I.
2.0 out of 5 stars Hard To Swallow
When reading through the first few pages, I almost had to stop reading. I've become so accustomed to seeing double quotation marks when reading dialogue, that when it's just an... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Megan.S
4.0 out of 5 stars Could someone out there explain the ending who won did ...
Could someone out there explain the ending who won did I miss something what happened to Chad I'M CONFUSED...HELP
Published 10 months ago by patricia Ohara
1.0 out of 5 stars Didn't like it at all
Didn't like it at all, I would not recommend to anyone. It was to slow and dragged on and on about same mundane reality. Read more
Published 10 months ago by denise jones
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More About the Author

Christopher J. Yates was born and raised in Kent and studied law at Oxford University before working as a puzzle editor in London. He now lives in New York City with his wife and dog. 'Black Chalk' is his debut novel.

You can read his blog posts on his website at:

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