The Tall Man

The Tall Man


A murder. A legend. A family haunted.

In 1990 three girls devote themselves to an ominous figure.

In 2000 a mother inexplicably disappears leaving behind her baby and husband.

and in 2018 a young girl is charged with murder.

Through each of the events The Tall Man is there.

Our Review

There has been a lot of well-deserved hype about Phoebe Locke’s debut novel The Tall Man and because of this it made the top of our list of ‘Books We Can’t Wait to Read in June 2018.’

The Tall Man is told across three differing timelines and from the perspective of several key characters but rather than being confusing I found this only added to the tale.

The Tall Man is about a murder, a legend and a family haunted. In 1990 three girls devote themselves to an ominous figure…in 2000 a mother inexplicably disappears leaving behind her baby and husband…and in 2018 a young girl is charged with murder. Through each of these events the Tall Man is there.

The Tall Man begins with the 2018 timeline and an article written by the director of a documentary on Amber Banner, the young girl charged with murder.

“The Banner family’s story first came to my attention during an extended stay in London. The case was much in the news at that time; in fact, as the impending trial drew closer, it was almost unavoidable. The headlines chilled me: a senseless murder, a family haunted by one member’s demons. An urban legend which had sunk it’s claws into an innocent child and turned their life upside down. I knew immediately that was a story I wanted to tell.”

Phoebe Locke’s writing style creates a sense of tension from the beginning, a creeping sensation that won’t leave the reader until well after the book is finished.

“This story is not one of tabloid gore and shock: it is one of grief and guilt and the terrible secrets which nestled for years at the heart of not one but two families. It is about the legacy of a dreadful legend, a story that begins and ends in the darkest woods.

It has haunted me ever since.”

Initially my favourite timeline in The Tall Man was that sat in the 1990’s, the story that focused specifically on the legends surrounding the Tall Man.

This timeline begins with Sadie and Helen walking their bikes besides the river when they come across Helen’s sister, Marie, and her friends Justine and Ellie.

Justine tells them all about the legend of the Tall Man.

‘Who’s The Tall Man?’ Sadie asked.

‘He lives in the woods,’ Marie said, leaning forward to take the packet of Opal Fruits from Helen’s hand.

‘He sees everything,’ Ellie added, pushing her glasses back up her nose.

‘He’s a murderer.’ Justine leaned back with a grin. ‘He comes in the night and takes you away….’

‘Don’t worry. Now you know about him, you’ll be safe.’

‘Not just safe,’ Justine said, clutching the lolly with her small white teeth. ‘He can make you special too if you ask him.’

In 1999 Sadie and her boyfriend Miles are both in their first year of university and have just told his disapproving parents that Sadie is pregnant.

The young couple are at a festival together when Miles goes off to get a drink for them both and when he returns he sees Sadie listening to someone in the shadows.

“Sadie was saying something to whoever it was but, with a sudden pang of dread, he saw fear on her face. Saw her backing away from a patch of shadow, a hand clamped protectively over her stomach. Her face had drained of colour, her eyes wild like a child’s.”

Miles is disturbed to realise that the although Sadie was clearly terrified it wasn’t a new feeling for her. As a reader this intrigued me and made me wonder who she had been listening to and why she was so scared.

In 2018 a documentary crew are following around 18-year-old Amber Banner during her first visit to LA. Federica is meant to be directing the documentary, but she keeps coming up with excuses not to come to LA and is leaving Greta and the rest of the crew to do all the hard work for her in the meantime.

The British media have portrayed Amber Banner as an ‘ice princess’ and have endlessly vilified her but the American press seem much more taken with her and Amber is enjoying the kind of celebrity status usually reserved for reality tv stars.

Opinions on the crew are divided over Amber, just like I suspect many readers will be. Greta believes that she is someone who needs to be protected to a certain extent, but some of the others feel that she needs to be pushed and that her crime means she has lost all right to play the victim.

“An eighteen-year-old girl who had reportedly signed with a talent agency less than forty-eight hours after being released from police custody. A girl first seen by the world in a blurry photo taken on a phone, her pale top sodden with blood, a smear of it drying on her mouth.”

When I was first introduced to this timeline I suspected this might be the area of the book that would let it down for me. I am not a fan of reality tv in general or celebrity culture and was concerned that this timeline might focus too much on those areas. However, this thankfully wasn’t the case as it worked with the book as a whole.

In 2000 Miles is becoming increasingly concerned with Sadie’s strange behaviour concerning their baby daughter.

“Ten days since Amber had been born. Three since Sadie had told that their daughter was cursed…’They’ll come for her,’ she’d said, though her voice was calm. ‘She’s cursed like me.’

Not only that but she had started checking the windows were shut and deadbolting the doors in the middle of the day and whispering to herself in corners. The one morning he wakes up and Sadie has gone.

In the present the crew are unsure if they are getting to see the real Amber.

“The public and the private. The thoughts twirling beneath the surface of Britain’s newest infamous face. Britain’s most in-demand murderer.”

As The Tall Man progresses we learn that Sadie returned into Amber’s life six months before Amber’s 16th birthday in 2016. Sadie took so long coming back into her daughter’s and husband’s life because she wanted to be sure that there were no unwelcome guests returning with her. Particularly not in the form of the Tall Man.

Each timeline with The Tall Man has something to contribute to the story and my favourite thing about the documentary timeline was learning about the origins of the Tall Man legend.

The legend of the Tall Man can be traced back as early as the 1970’s. 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 daughter. 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. In some versions of the story, these gifts are powers while in others, they are guardians – often said to be ‘sent from the shadows.’

I liked that The Tall Man left unanswered questions like is the Tall Man real? And does it really matter if he was real or not? I think the ambiguity surrounding the Tall Man and his existence adds to the disconcerting nature of the book. I liked that the Tall Man’s appearance isn’t really gone into in any depth because it added to the mystery and left it to my own imagination.

This was a brilliant debut and I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

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