Book Review: Whisper Down the Lane by Clay McLeod Chapman

Inspired by the McMartin preschool trials and the Satanic Panic of the ‘80s, the critically acclaimed author of The Remaking delivers another pulse pounding, true-crime-based horror novel.

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Release Date: April 6, 2021

Publisher: Quirk Books

Price: $18.30 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

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 neighbor, or even a teacher. When Sean’s school sends a letter to the parents revealing that Sean’s favorite teacher is under investigation, a white lie from Sean lights a fire that engulfs the entire nation—and Sean and his mother are left holding the match.

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.

Grade: B

Review:

This is my second sampling of Clay’s writing and I must say that I really enjoy how strong his novels begin. This novel is steeped in reality as it’s based off of the 80’s Satanic Panic that made people suspect of anyone in getting caught up with witchcraft. In the 80’s a California preschool was in the news for the teachers were accused of being Satanists. Obviously, it all ended up being one big lie, and this book explores what happens when a little boy delivers a lie that changes not only his life but that of many people. Sean is five years old when he accuses his kindergarten teacher of worshiping the devil. Years later, we see how that lie comes back to haunt him.

Some parts of the book were creepy (I really enjoyed the Gray Boy) and some of them were kinda slow. I liked how it explored the Satanic Panic craze as I was too little to recall any of it when it was happening, not to mention that since my parents weren’t the crazy types, they never thought that Cabbage Patch Kids or The Smurfs were “Satanic.”

I did enjoy the dual narratives between Sean in 1983 and Richard in 2013 as it amped up the mystery of what happened and trying to figure out what exactly what went on. The imagery was dark and creepy and I was compelled to keep on reading as more and more of the mystery began to unravel. I liked how the book ended but it felt like the novel began to drag towards the end, so I would’ve preferred a more tightened end, but I did like how we were left with a question rather than all answers.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Quirk Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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