Whisper Down the Lane
by Clay McLeod Chapman
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Pub Date 06 Apr 2021 | Archive Date 07 Feb 2022
A pulse-pounding, true-crime-based horror novel inspired by the McMartin preschool trial and Satanic Panic of the ’80s.
Richard doesn’t have a past. For him, there is only the present: a new marriage, a first chance at fatherhood, and a quiet life as an art teacher in Virginia. Then the body of a ritualistically murdered rabbit appears on his school’s playground, along with a birthday card for him. But Richard hasn’t celebrated his birthday since he was known as Sean . . .
In the 1980s, Sean was five years old when his mother unwittingly led him to tell a lie about his teacher. When school administrators, cops, and therapists questioned him, he told another. And another. And another. Each was more outlandish than the last—and fueled a moral panic that engulfed the nation and destroyed the lives of everyone around him.
Now, thirty years later, someone is here to tell Richard that they know what Sean did. But who would even know that these two are one and the same? Whisper Down the Lane is a tense and compulsively readable exploration of a world primed by paranoia to believe the unbelievable.
One of The Lineup's Scariest Horror Books We're Most Looking Forward to in 2021
"[A] spellbinding psychological thriller...a suspenseful tale of paranoia that will keep readers riveted until the last surprise is sprung.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Creepy and engaging, this is a tale for readers who enjoy true crime like We Believe the Children by Richard Beck (2015), horror like Grady Hendrix's My Best Friend's Exorcism (2016), and intensely disorienting psychological suspense like Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (2017).”—Booklist
“In Whisper Down the Lane, Clay McLeod Chapman has gifted readers a novel that is darkly compelling, deeply discomfiting, and achingly human. We squirm as the dread and terror mount, but we can’t stop reading. We’re under the spell of a true storyteller, and bound to follow him wherever he takes us. Prepare to surrender some sleep for this twisting tale of family, memory, identity, and the weight of old sins.”—Shaun Hamill, author of A Cosmology of Monsters
“A beguiling page-turner brimming with dread, Whisper Down the Lane is diabolical fun.”—Rachel Harrison, author of The Return and Cackle
“Whisper Down the Lane is a brilliant nightmare. Chapman will ensnare you in a terrifying web deftly woven with lies, good intentions, childhood fears and local hysteria. From the very first chapter, you’ll be caught.”—Mallory O’Meara, best-selling author of The Lady from the Black Lagoon
“Chapman is a maestro at building grim suspense to the point of unimaginable consequences, proving genuine horror dwells in the world we live in today.”—Mystery and Suspense Magazine
Average rating from 94 members
I can recall living through some of the strange moments of the '80s like the sweeping Satanic Panic that gripped the country for awhile, and this novel encapsulates many of those moments quite well. From the media push, the outrageous claims, and the fear that anybody could be a Satan worshiper.
That's just one part of this story though, as the novel follows Sean, a five-year-old boy caught up in a Satanic cult story in the '80s and Richard, an elementary school art teacher finding himself in a frighteningly similar story.
As well as author Clay McLeod Chapman brings a reality to Sean's fictional Satanic cult story, he does an even more impressive job of documenting Richard's slowly shattering sanity as he deals with a Satanic themed attack on his character.
It's incredibly gripping, forcing you to turn each page as you search for the truth of the story. It all culminates in perfect horror film territory, bringing together fact and fiction to craft a terrifying story that could easily have been a warning to parents on any number of daytime talk shows during the '80s. You know this isn't real, but you'll find yourself realizing it could be far closer to truth than you're willing to admit.
I absolutely loved this book. It's unsettling throughout, but it slowly intensifies; by the end, I couldn't stop reading.
I was born in 1980 so I don't really remember much of the Satanic panic of the early 1980s. I vaguely remember the daycare (elementary school?) where kids claimed their teacher molested them and that it turned out to be completely made up, but I don't remember many details. That made this even creepier than it would otherwise be.
It's not 100% terrifying, though. There are a LOT of horror references. I'm sure I missed some, but I hope I got most of them. Many of the names here are taken from scary movies or novels (or both--there are a lot of connections to Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist, which makes sense, but there are plenty more, too) and that was a really fun aspect of the book. But it also made it even scarier. It gave me a second of "Oh hey, I get that!" before it grabbed me by the throat again.
This isn't for everyone. It's graphic in parts and scary throughout. But it's also even better than The Remaking and I can't wait for the next novel. Highly recommended.
Review of Whisper Down the Lane by Clay McLeod Chapman
Whisper Down the Lane is such a wonderful slow burn with all the jarring imagery you’d want in a horror novel. At some points very mysterious, I was on the edge of my seat right until the end of this story.
Chapman’s ability to write complicated characters and show all sides of them while also making them likable was probably my favorite part of this book. That is not easy to do. You felt for literally everyone in the novel as you tried to piece together what was going on.
I will definitely be reading more from this author in the future. Thank you to Quirk Books for the ebook ARC of this book.
So creepy, so good! This is a great read. There’s two separate stories. One follows Sean, as school boy in the 1980s, the other follows Richard in 2010. Richard is a teacher. As the book progresses their stories intertwine. Really well written, based a lot around the satanic panic of the 80s. Kids preforming satanic rituals at school, lies, mystery. It has it all it was unnerving, suspenseful and horrific. I may be scared for life but it was worth it.
Whisper Down the Lane was written by Clay McLeod Chapman. The book is published by Quirk Books (thanks for sending a copy for review).
SUMMARY: It was the early 80's, when a criminal case opened the floodgates of paranoia for both parents and children. A young boy, Sean, was pressured by his mother, police, and a physiatrist to spill his guts about the dark things that happened in his classroom. He draws disturbing images of the events and tells of satanic rituals that took place during class. The confession altered the lives of many individuals.
In 2013, a man named Richard believes his past is better off behind him and forgotten. Not a soul he comes in contact with knows of the horrible things he'd been a part of. However, history has a tendency to repeat itself. Events unravel in Richard's small town; familiar, unwanted memories rise up to haunt him. These events, if they rise up out of the shadows and into the light, will alter Richards life in the worst possible fashion.
CHARACTERS: With this story, I'm only going to mention one character, Richard. Richard is an art teacher at an elementary school. It seems he’s living his best life now; newly married, soon to be an adoptive father, and he has a great job. Richard is a good guy, full of love and dreams. When distant memories swell up within him, his grasp on reality gets fuzzy, and his sanity starts to slip away.
OVERALL THOUGHTS: This book... is intense! While reading this book, I felt physically ill, I felt anger, I had goosebumps, I felt paranoia, and I felt joy! Chapman absolutely blew me away with this story from beginning to end. The story alternates between two timelines, 1983 & 2013. It's extremely easy to follow.
The characters, setting, and descriptions are written so well. the author did a fantastic job with the characters thoughts, expressing the hopes, fears and everything else going on the characters head, was very clear; making the characters feel like real people. The dialogue is great, the actions and reactions of the characters are organic, nothing felt forced or cheesy.
The setting was described perfectly. I feel like I’ve been to the town described in the book. Now that I'm a father of three kids, the things that happen in this book are an all new layer of horror. The book raised my anxiety, I legitimately felt horrified by this story. The end of the book just about blew my socks off, it's soooo good! I can't wait to see what Chapman has in store for his next book.
Do I recommend you purchase Whisper Down the Lane by Clay McLeod Chapman? I most certainly do!
RATING: I give this novel an A+, I was very pleased with this intense horror novel!
Big recommend. Using the Satanic Panic of the 80s as a backdrop, Chapman shows us what happens when lies are allowed to fester, even after decades.
Richard has been running from his past for a long time, But the past is persistent, and when it resurfaces in Richard's life, all hell breaks loose. But is it deserved?
This one's a lot of fun. Chapman has crafted a really tense, well-paced horror thriller. It's got a ton of twists, some terrific scares, and a surprisingly emotional ending that lands. This one should be at the top of the list for horror fans this spring
As a young child, Sean told a lie about his teacher, saying what he believed his mother wanted to hear, and that lie spiraled into something much bigger; something detrimental for the targeted teacher.
Thirty years later, Sean is a boy who no longer exists.
But Richard exists and Richard is a man who doesn’t want to remember his past. He doesn’t want to think about the consequences of his choice. But it doesn’t matter what Richard wants. Somebody else wants to make sure he never forgets.
Let’s talk about cute animals first - get that out of the way - because I don’t want you to hate me if I haven’t sufficiently warned you prior to getting you invested in a book that I thought was spectacular. Horror authors - they definitely know how to probe at their readers’ emotions - and I guess I understand why they do what they do sometimes. But I don’t like it. And I know a lot of you won’t like it. So, fair warning: This is a captivating story, but there are two brutally descriptive animal deaths in the book. It’s upsetting. Very, very upsetting.
Okay, so are you still with me? Are you ready to read about how much I loved this book? Good!
I, as a kid growing up in the eighties, with parents who considered Halloween and Friday the 13th to be excellent family movie options, was wholly unaware of the fact that there were other parents burning Cabbage Patch Kids and viewing marshmallows in kids’ cereals as anything other than sweet deliciousness. In short, I was oblivious to this thing called the Satanic Panic. I’d heard some rumors about The Smurfs, but that wasn’t until adulthood. I just… didn’t know.
Whisper Down the Lane weaves that concept into something more. The author creates a situation that involves both mass hysteria and the far-reaching consequences of a lie. In terms of horror, this is relatively tame, aside from the aforementioned animal deaths, but it does give the reader a lot of unsettling notions to consider.
I found this story to be fast-paced and meaningful, with undying relevance in its message. It’s very sad, too, when the impact of one fib is fully understood. The book ultimately challenges the reader with a question: Who is the actual monster of this story?
As long as you can stomach the animal scenes, you may find yourself enjoying this as much as I did. It embraced some of the psychological themes I love exploring and I fully believe that the positives outweigh everything else. This was a clever way to communicate a vital message about human vulnerability. We are often inclined to believe that we are not easily influenced and that may be one of the most dangerous beliefs that we possess.
Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my digital review copy. I also was fortunate to receive a physical ARC from a friend. All opinions are my own.
“He wanted to take it all back. Everything he said to Mr. Yucky and the Bad Snatcher. It felt wrong now, having all these eyes on him.”
– Clay McLeod Chapman, Whisper Down the Lane
🏫I received an e-ARC of this story from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. Whisper Down the Lane (2021) will release on 6th April!🏫
So recently, I finally took the plunge and signed up for NetGalley. I couldn’t really give you an answer as to why I hadn’t up to this point, as it’s such a fantastic way to read exciting new books ahead of their release dates. It had always been on my radar, but I’m glad to finally have caught on to the trend myself and joined. Immediately after signing up, I cast my interest out in a couple of books from authors that I either already loved or had caught my eye in the past. To be honest, I hadn’t actually been expecting to get these ARCs, since my account was so new. So naturally, I was super excited to receive the emails of approval for two of the three I expressed interest in, one of which was this, Clay McLeod Chapman’s upcoming Whisper Down the Lane.
This book tells the story of Richard Bellamy, an elementary school art teacher without a past – or rather, one that he’d like to pretend doesn’t exist. Richard has managed to put his history behind him and start a new life in Danvers, Virginia, where he leads a contented existence with his wife Tamara and her son from an earlier relationship, Elijah. Everything is perfect – his new marriage, his first chance at fatherhood, his quaint little job – until the school’s pet rabbit is found ritualistically killed on the school grounds on Richard’s birthday, with a card addressed to him on it’s corpse. What follows is a taut and incredibly tense psychological thriller, as Richard’s past threatens to catch up to him and he wonders who he can truly trust.
Whisper Down the Lane’s story is distinctly divided into two main narrative strands; Damned if You Do Sean, which takes place during 1983, and Damned if You Don’t Richard, the ‘present day’, which takes place in 2013. Interestingly, the story also adopts two tenses – Sean’s story is told in a third person past tense, whilst Richard’s is narrated in the first person present. This is a really challenging thing to get right, as alternating tenses and persons can become awfully confusing, but I think the distinctness of the two tales makes it easy to follow, and in the end they link together oh so well.
I felt that Richard made for a really interesting and engaging protagonist. Even from the offset, it’s clear that he has more than a few skeletons in his closet, and the way this ties into Sean’s narrative is effectively done. The two strands, which at first seem unrelated, gradually become intricately entwined and woven into one larger picture. Richard has a cynical narration and sense of humour, and it slowly becomes evident that this may be something of a defence mechanism. The other central character is of course Sean, and I thought that his story sections were believable as far as Sean’s age went; the way he acts and reacts to certain things felt authentic and true to how a young boy would.
Being familiar with the historical and societal context of the story isn’t a necessity, as Chapman explains it well, but it certainly does enrich the experience, to have even a passing knowledge of America’s ‘Satanic Panic’ that swept the nation during the 1980s, and in particular the McMartin preschool trial case that serves as the main basis for the narrative. You might be inclined to assume that the events depicted in this book could never actually take place, that this sort of manic mass hysteria could never have such a stranglehold over an entire country. But as history proves, it really did. I think this collective madness was presented accurately throughout the book, particularly in the way that it affects the mental state of Sean’s mother in the past section and Richard’s own grip on reality in the present.
Speaking of the plot, I thought it was just fantastic. Information was drip-fed throughout, and despite the link between the 1980s narrative and the present one being fairly easy to telegraph early on, the story from then on is a delirious descent into paranoia, and never what I would call predictable. Chapman keeps his cards close to his chest regarding whether there is genuinely any supernatural element to the plot. What I loved most is that the story felt so realistic, like it could just have much been a memoir of one of the children who went through this exact situation during the 1980s.
Overall, Whisper Down the Lane succeeds at being a very intense and expertly told chiller – skilfully walking the tightrope between its seemingly supernatural elements and its all too real ones – but it is so much more than that. It’s a story of lies and consequences, of no ‘black and white, right and wrong’, just morals of varying shades of grey. It’s a tale that is scarily still so germane, even today. Obviously the themes in this story might not be to everyone’s tastes, and I think the current spread in reviews and ratings support that. But the thing is, as dark and downbeat as the plot is, it’s also evidence that sometimes the scariest stories of all are those that are all too real.
VERDICT: I could talk for ages on the books I really love, those that earn the full five stars from me, but I’ll stop myself there and say that Whisper Down the Lane is simply brilliant start to finish – by turns a thoroughly entertaining, terrifying, and ultimately heart-breaking read. It’s clear that Chapman knows the horror genre inside and out – the myriad references and ‘Easter eggs’ to horror books and films are indicative of that – but as in any truly great work of horror fiction, he understands that the genre is at its very best when infused with real meaning and social commentary. In that regard, Whisper Down the Lane is a true triumph; a gut-wrenching, emotionally devastating, and disturbingly relevant work.
It’s a highly deserved full ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐/⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ from this reviewer! I also want to say a humongous thank you to both the author Clay McLeod Chapman, publisher Quirk Books, and to NetGalley, for providing the ARC and giving me the chance to read and review it early.
Riveting split-narrative of a lie which ruins lives 30 years apart in the days of Satanic Panic
In recent years there have been many books, both fiction and factual, about the Satanic Panic era of the 1980s, in which Evangelical Christians (and hyped by the media) believed Devil worshippers or Satanists walked amongst everyday Americans, effectively hidden in plain sight. Sensationalist reports from the time claimed there were more than a million active American Satanists. Heavy metal music, and all things horror, were partially blamed with high profile court cases gripping the nation. Images and vinyl by the likes of ACDC, Kiss and Judas Priest being routinely burned in an effort to save the souls of the American youth (too bad if they did not want to be saved!) Clay McLeod Chapman draws inspiration from some of these events from the 1980s, weaving a totally gripping and entirely non-sensationalist account, of how the power of suggestion can ruin lives.
I must confess to almost passing on the opportunity to review Whisper Down the Lane, no offense to Clay McLeod Chapman, but I felt books connected to the Satanic Panic movement and those which eulogised the wonders of the 1980s had overstayed their welcome and were going the same way as the zombie novel a few years ago. However, a friend (with very good taste) convinced me to take a second look and I was quickly hooked, speeding through a riveting plot over a couple of days.
Part of the strength of Whisper Down the Lane is that it is not explicitly about Satanic Panic, which is never mentioned, but the mood of the nation at that moment in time is brilliantly captured through the eyes of five-year-old Sean who wonders why parents might find the cartoon He Man: Master of the Universe or The Smurfs dangerous? Good question Sean. Neither does the book poke fun at Christian America, like you might see in a Grady Hendrix novel, or get particularly judgmental at this period in history, with the final product being all the more convincing because of it. As this 1983 sequence is told entirely through an impressionable child’s eyes, it is up to the reader to read between the lines on the dangers of Smurfs and particular brands of breakfast cereal. The nostalgia for the 1980s you normally see in fiction, big hair, roller-skates, and Michael Jackson etc is entirely absent except for the odd reference which adds context. This makes the book more realistic, as it does not have the need to continually throw in cultural references to get the reader nodding and smiling through recognition.
Whisper Down the Lane is in part inspired by the 1984 McMartin preschool trial, in which allegations led to incredibly expensive court cases which rumbled on into the 1990s, ruining many lives along the way. Although the moral panic which dominated America never genuinely took off in the UK (we had our own problems!) I do recall a teacher telling me ACDC stood for ‘Anti-Christ Devil’s Children’, and that Kiss symbolised ‘Kids in Satan’s Service’ and that Rush meant ‘Reign Until Satan’s Homecoming’, so obviously some of America’s negative attitude towards rock music even rippled over into the north of Scotland! I was about eleven at the time and stuck with the music.
This thought-provoking novel convincingly ticks several genre boxes and should be enjoyed by traditional horror readers, psychological thriller fans, as well as those who dig true crime. The reader never truly expects the Devil himself to jump out from behind the elementary school library bookshelves, but you never know, and the ambiguity levels which envelope the 1983 and 2013 storylines are first rate, which strengthen as the novel progresses. The true power of Whisper Down the Lane is figuring out how the timelines connect and as I headed into the last twenty percent I was totally enthralled as the coincidences started to build with reality blurring.
In the 1983 narrative Sean is the child of a single parent mother who has just moved to Greenfield, Virginia. Early in the action Sean’s school sends a letter to the parents revealing that his favourite teacher is under investigation and an easy people-pleasing lie from Sean quickly escalates. Before long, the little boy finds himself, for once, the centre of attention, with the lie getting bigger and uncontrollable.
Flash forward to 2013, Richard is a recently married art teacher in a Virginia elementary school, who is hoping to adopt the young son (Elijah) of his new wife, Tamara. However, early in the narrative the body of a rabbit, ritualistically murdered, appears on the school grounds with a birthday card for Richard tucked beneath it. Before long there are other strange occurrences and Richard begins to struggle with his relationship with Elijah and the events of thirty years start to repeat themselves, with both narratives blending together beautifully. The book does an expert job of bouncing back to the past to provide more depth to the story that is unfolding in the present.
You may well end up looking up the real case which inspired the novel on Wikipedia (I did) and will quickly wonder how much coercion was used by the police on the children involved? Whisper Down the Lane might be fiction ‘inspired’ by reality, with a final product which is significantly deeper than your average horror novel and concludes with a surprisingly emotional ending. This was a terrific read and even if you’re bored reading about Satanic Panic this novel adds an extra dimension of realism to a familiar story, turning it into a totally gripping 336-pages
When he was five years old, Sean told a little lie. And now, it must come full circle.
Let me just start by saying that this book has an amazing beginning. Total misdirection, you could argue, but creepy and interesting enough to get you hooked until the very last page.
Broken into two different point of views, “Damned if you don’t” (Richard) and “Damned if you do” (Sean), the past and present of the story unravels at a slow pace, piece by piece, until it reaches the last part and just explodes in a burst of (really well written) paranoia.
Related to the Satanic Panic in the 80s and how it affected both children and their parents, Whisper down the lane makes a terrific job, not only depicting how the most mundane fears can make a whole system crumble, but also making you, the reader, part of it. Do you believe it now, while you read it? Ok, but… what if it had happened around you, to someone you knew? Would you believe then?
The characters were solid and evolved in the expected way. Some of them just show in the background, grey and sometimes unused, but they don’t need to be centre for the reader to feel their looming presence.
I think the interviews, scattered thorough the book, make a great addition as well, for they allow the reader to get really close to what the characters are remembering (or not), doing (or not) and feeling.
And yes, as you can obviously infer by the vague descriptions and somehow obscure sentences, I am trying my best not to say a lot because I think this is the kind of novel that one needs to approach with little to no information.
Are you looking for a creepy, psychological story that will possibly make you heart run faster with each turn of the page? You’re in the right place. Just start reading. You won’t regret it.
***Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for sending and ARC in exchange for an honest review***
I read Clay McLeod Chapman’s other book, The Remaking, and loved it. When I saw that there was a new book coming out, I was ecstatic. This book was everything I had hoped for, and then some. It was creepy, it was dark, it was gory at parts, it had a big twist ending that I definitely did not see coming. I really enjoyed this book. I will definitely be recommending this to customers at work!
This book feels like something of a level-up for Chapman. Not that he was in need of one--he's always been a consummate storyteller--but of all his books (and monologues) I've encountered, none has ever been quite so sprawling, so intense, so heart-burstingly sad. The chapter-by-chapter, sentence-by-sentence craft on display is also a new high watermark for him; this books moves as easy as a greased Slip 'n Slide straight into the mouth of Hell. A must-read for fans of Dan Chaon's ILL WILL or Stephen King's SECRET WINDOW SECRET GARDEN.
I read Chapman's novel about the Satanic Panic of the 80s and a present day unsettling situation in one day--and most of it in one big chunk at night because I just couldn't step away from Sean and Richard's horrifying stories.
Chapman wove everything together masterfully and provided plenty of shocking elements. In fact, I could physically feel my eyes opening wider and wider while reading the book's final pages.
This book will appeal to those who love psychological horror, those who like to watch things spiral out of control, and those who cheered on Dee Snider when he stuck it to PMRC.