Whisper Down the Lane by Clay McLeod Chapman – Blog Tour Book Review
About the Book
HAVE YOU EVER TOLD A WHITE LIE?
“[A] spellbinding psychological thriller… a suspenseful tale of paranoia that will keep readers riveted until the last surprise is sprung.”
–Publishers Weekly, starred review
Richard doesn’t have a past. For him, there is only the present: a new marriage to Tamara, a first chance at fatherhood to her son Elijah, and a quiet but pleasant life as an art teacher at Elijah’s elementary school in Danvers, Virginia. Then the body of a rabbit, ritualistically murdered, appears on the school grounds with a birthday card for Richard tucked beneath it. Richard doesn’t have a birthday… but Sean does.
Sean is a five-year-old boy who has just moved to Greenfield, Virginia, with his mother. Like most mothers of the 1980s, she’s worried about bills, childcare, putting food on the table . . . and an encroaching threat to American life that can take the face of anyone: a politician, a friendly neighbour, or even a teacher. When Sean’s school sends a letter to the parents revealing that Sean’s favourite teacher is under investigation, a white lie from Sean lights a fire that engulfs the entire nation.
Now, thirty years later, someone is here to remind Richard that they remember what Sean did. And though Sean doesn’t exist anymore, someone needs to pay the price for his lies.
Inspired by the McMartin preschool trials and the Satanic Panic of the ‘80s, this is a thrilling must-read for fans of True Crime and Horror.
About the Author
Clay McLeod Chapman is the creator of the storytelling session “The Pumpkin Pie Show” and the author of rest area, nothing untoward, and The Tribe trilogy. He is the co-author, with Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick, of the middle grade novel Wendell and Wild. In the world of comics, Chapman’s work includes Lazaretto, Iron Fist: Phantom Limb, and Edge of Spiderverse. He also writes for the screen, including The Boy (SXSW 2015), Henley (Sundance 2012), and Late Bloomer (Sundance 2005). You can find him at claymcleodchapman.com.
What I Thought
Growing up in the 80s myself I have very vague recollections of Satanic Panic: that there were fears of occultists, ritualised markings at crime scenes, and that people were convinced that the devil was real and doing work through his followers. I wonder if watching Eddie Murphy’s film The Golden Child had anything to do with those memories?
Whisper Down the Lane is a psychological thriller/horror that is very filmic in its writing. You can visualise this playing out and at times that makes it all the more creepy.
It is told from two perspectives. Richard in 2013 and 5 year old Sean in 1983. The voice in Sean’s chapters is at times a little old so I wonder if this is being told with a dash of hindsight too. We also have interview transcripts, newspaper clippings and letters to add further intrigue.
Whisper down the Lane is the childhood game where a phrase gets whispered down a group, passed from ear to ear, rarely coming out as it started. With echoes of the crucible witchcraft accusations and a very creepy therapist helping along Sean’s false memories the accused teacher in the 80s realises that rumours stick even when they are disproved.
With all the talk of fake news recently this also feels a little on the nose. That certain groups believe out and out lies. But here we have children spreading them, but it is made clear it is the adults who whip them up into a frenzy.
I think child abuse is a tricky topic to include in a book, and sexual abuse is alluded to amongst the satanic whisperings. In the more modern day narrative it felt a little more unsavoury to suggest that victims aren’t always being truthful, especially with the recent “me too” movements. But I can see how it is used to add fear and uncertainty in the reader.
What happened to Sean and his teacher in the 80s is then echoed in Richard’s story. The circular concept of what goes around comes around. In fact each chapter is headed either damned if you do or damned if you don’t.
Richard is presented as a very likeable jovial character at the start, someone who is settling into life with good things happening. He has married and hope to adopt his stepson. That makes what comes next put you on edge wonder what is happening, and reconsider if we should have liked him in the first place.
The denouement is satisfying and there were subtle clues given to it that a future reading may highlight more. There were enough twists and turns to keep me guessing, and even added right at the end, leaving a sense of incompleteness to the story. It left me unsettled although I don’t think we will get more.
Just in case reading the synopsis or my review didn’t make it clear this book has trigger warnings for: Satanism, Animal Cruelty and Child Abuse.
Launch Event with Elijah Wood – you can watch the reply for $5.
Thanks to Stephen and Jamie-Lee at Black Crow PR for the gifted ARC for the purposes of an honest review.
Do check out the rest of the blog tour to see what everyone else thought.