Black Chalk, the debut novel of Christopher J. Yates (and a gift from my brother this past Christmas) is a curious little thriller that defies expectations, being something a little and otherworldly despite a rather basic premise that is anything but new. It is clearly standing on the shoulders of a book like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, acting as a kind of second rate version of that book with potboiler elements (that is not an insult), but reading it, I found myself thinking of other authors Yates seemed to echo, some of which caught me by surprise. The narration, filled with a desperation and fear that is trying to be quelled by unreliability and a need to change the past reminded me of Paul Auster’s darker works, it’s quiet menace that got under my skin reminded me of Peter Straub (not so much Stephen King, whose referenced on the front cover) and its surprisingly experimental structure couldn’t help but make me think of House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Much like Donna Tartt’s novel, a lower middle class kid interjects himself, by accident, into an affluent academic world that hides hidden motives and dark desires. That boy is Chad and the school is Oxford University. He meets Joylen, and together with four other friends, they become enmeshed in a game where the consequences escalate from cheeky, to the humiliating and finally to deadly, all the while, a paranoid, drug addled voice from fourteen years in the future prepares himself to finish what he started. This is a very interesting book, filled with intrigue that I underestimated, and even with the head-scratching and rather disappointing ending, this book didn’t feel like a waste of time. Yates seems like a smart writer, who is putting his talents to good use with such an entertaining novel, and I look forward to what he puts out next.