Let’s Play a Game: Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates


What is it about the phrase “Let’s Play a Game” that sets your nerves on edge when you hear it in a movie or read it in a book? That moment when the computer says “Global Thermonuclear War,” in War Games . . . you know something horrible is about to happen right?

In Black Chalk, it’s when university friends Chad, Jack and Jolyon attend something called the Freshers Fair, an event for students to learn about the various societies they can join for involvement in everything from tiddlywinks to socks. The three despair of finding anything worth their time and attention until Chad sees a stand labelled “Game Soc(iety).

“I have a proposition for you,” [Chad] said, “for an entirely original and inventive game.” No one from Game Soc flinched. “But I can turn straight around right no, if you don’t think original and inventive ideas are your thing.” He lifted his hands and made to leave.

“Continue,” said Tallest.

“Six people, a number of rounds, each one separated by a week. A game of consequences, consequences which must be performed to prevent elimination. These consequences take the form of psychological dares, challenges designed to test how much embarrassment and humiliation the players can stand. Throughout the rounds players who fail to perform their consequences are eliminated until only one is left standing.”

Jolene moved forward to stand shoulder to shoulder with his friend. “The game takes place in utter secrecy,” he said . . .

“So why, may I ask, are you doing to us?” said Tallest.

“Funding,” said Chad.

Game Soc’s representatives exchanged looks, then quickly and silently reached their decision. It was the first time any of them had smiled and now all three of them were smiling unanimously.

“How does ten thousand pounds sound?” said Tallest.

What could go wSEP Pranksrong? Six college students in the throes of self-actualization, raging hormones, insecurity and angst agree to play a game in which the goal is to test how much embarrassment and humiliation each player can stand.

Compare it to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History or Will Lavender’s Dominance, intellectual thrillers set on and about college campuses.

In reviewing Black Chalk for NPR, Jason Sheehan said, “I don’t want to say a word.” He explains it is because he loved Black Chalk so much, he doesn’t want to ruin the surprise for any reader, but rather allow each reader to “suck it down in one breath, like a lungful of dark water,” as he did. http://www.npr.org/2015/08/05/429436922/six-friends-a-pile-of-cash-and-a-game-with-deadly-consequences

Black Chalk effectively pits the six players of the game against one another, against the game itself, against Game Soc and against themselves. But Christopher Yates pits the reader against Black Chalk. Even as the students play, the reader is engaged in an ever-increasingly staked battle to figure out just what the heck is going on.

To say more, as Jason Sheehan so eloquently put it, might prevent you from experiencing “one of the greatest surprise reveals I’ve witnessed. A twist that’s like screwing your head on backwards.”


The author

Unlike many novelists, Yates (trained as a lawyer at Oxford University then worked as a puzzle editor in London) treats internet visitors to his website to the first two chapters of Black Chalk, for free. Undoubtedly confident that after you’ve read the first two chapters you will be hooked enough to buy the book. I share his confidence and even if you don’t read the first two chapters free, read the book.

The website ALSO includes four Black Chalk themed puzzles, photos of himself, his wife and his adorable dog Mabel, and . . . wait for it . . . a PLAYLIST! I haven’t found any recipes though. The website:  http://www.christopherjyates.com.

Seriously, choose this book for your book club. You will love it!

“But it was never supposed to be that sort of game.”

(bwa ha ha ha ha ha!!!)


Given that the book’s primary locale is the fictional Pitt College, the majority of comestibles mentioned are liquid.

Champagne cocktails of Pol Roger with one sugar cube per glass

Cuba libres or rum, coke and limes

Pints of ale


Kir Royales of cava and creme de cassis

Whiskeyblack chalk

 But there is a scene early on with a meal that I can quote here without violating my pledge not to spoil the book.

Jolyon climbed onto his bed to reach his window. On the ledge outside was a jug that matched the teacups. He brought the jug to the coffee table, removed a piece of foil from the top and poured milk into the teacups. Then he poured tea. The spout of the pot extended from a hole in the tea cosy.

“If I were a condemned man,” said Jolynon, “I’d definitely choose eggs for my last supper.”

Jolene put the breakfast in front of Chad. The egg was white and pure on the perfect golden toasts. He handed Chad a fork and put a small wooden dish of pyramid-shaped salt crystals on the coffee table between them. Then Jolyon went at his own egg with a fork, mashing it and spreading it over the slice of toast. The yolk was a bright orange, halfway between liquid and set. “Now this is important,” said Jolyon. “And I’m never going to tell this to anyone but you.” Jolene gave Chad his conspiratorial look. And then he said, “It’s the twenty-seven seconds that’s the secret.” He finished by crumbling salt across the smeared egg and raised the prize up. “English bruschetta,” he announced, and took a large bite.

There is also mention of salted pistachios and pork.


BLACK CHALK, THE SOUNDTRACK from Christopher J. Yates’ webpage.

1. Everything In Its Right Place — Radiohead [New York section]   2. Everything Happens To Me — Chet Baker [Chad’s favourite]   3. I Wanna Be Adored — The Stone Roses [Oxford section]   4. Nelson Mandela — The Specials [Jolyon’s favourite]   5. New York, New York — Frank Sinatra [Oxford section]   6. Bigmouth Strikes Again — The Smiths [Jack’s favourite]   7. Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead — The Munchkins [Oxford section]   8. Every Day Is Like Sunday — Morrissey [Oxford section]   9. Hey Jude — The Beatles [Emilia’s favourite]   10. Can’t Stand Me Now — The Libertines [New York section]   11. Love Will Tear Us Apart — Joy Division [Dee’s favourite]   12. The Ace of Spades — Motorhead [Oxford section]   13. Step On – Happy Mondays [Mark’s favourite]   14. Many Shades of Black — The Raconteurs [New York section]

If you follow this link, http://www.christopherjyates.com/the-soundtrack/#.VqenKcck_ww, Yates explains the music. (YAY CHRISTOPHER!)


Jolyon – Alex Pettyfer

Chad — Jesse Plemons

Jack – Rupert Grint

Mark – James Buckley

Emilia — Bella Heathcote

Dee — Evanna Lynch

***Amazingly, this does not appear to be in development as a movie at least according to IMDB. It would make a great one!

Happy Reading!




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