“The legend of the Tall Man can be traced back as early as the 1970s. An urban legend which began circulating around schools in England, it has several variants – the most popular is that of a man who murdered his disobedient daughters. This version of the Tall Man can be sought out by ‘good’ or ‘special’ girls – the legend goes that girls who offer presents and subservience will be rewarded with gifts of their own.”
Phoebe Locke, in her blistering debut novel, has accomplished a rare literary feat: a highly-accessible thriller that captivates, and keeps you guessing, right up until the very last page. And then delivers a pay-off that certainly doesn’t disappoint.
The Tall Man (available to buy now, published by Wildfire) is a gripping tale from beginning to end, and by rights should be one of this summer’s biggest pool-side treats. I devoured it in just a matter of days while making the most of each and every small glimmer of sunshine that has appeared in the UK recently – and it gave me a glimpse of how truly enjoyable this novel would be for readers in warmer climates.
Spanning the course of three decades, Locke’s powerful debut follows a documentary crew as they look to uncover the legend of The Tall Man through the story of Amber Banner, a teenage murder suspect (and now celebrity) regarded by the media as an ice princess, with a “chilly calmness” in the face of unspeakable tragedy.
The filmmakers, in 2018, capture Amber’s every move on film throughout a US media tour, hoping to break through her exterior. In the process, they learn about her history, her parents’ past struggles, and the terrifying hold that the mysterious Tall Man has had over all that have encountered him.
As The Tall Man’s creepy shadow looms large over the narrative, the book frequently jumps from 1990, when three girls go looking for the Tall Man in the darkest of woods, to 2000, when a young mother disappears, leaving behind her newborn daughter and husband, to the present day.
These swift jumps throughout the story add great pace and drama to the tale, and ensure that the reader never truly has an opportunity to pause for breath.
As secrets unravel and true horrors come to light, it isn’t until the very final pages that the reality of Amber’s situation is revealed and The Tall Man is shown for what he really is.
Locke – the pseudonym of full-time writer Nicci Cloke – has delivered a highly memorable first novel here that is set to have wide appeal. Written with great confidence, The Tall Man is a chilling, creepy, and expertly-executed psychological thriller that leaves a lasting impression in its wake.