Cover Image: Whisper Down the Lane

Whisper Down the Lane

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Member Reviews

I love when books have an alternating timeline and this one is set in the middle of the 1980's satanic panic period with a kindergarten student and 2013 with an adult art teacher. Sean is the guileless impressionable kindergartner who just wants to make friends and escape his weird mom and Richard is the art teacher who so badly wants to adopt his stepson and fit in to his new community and school. Both are hiding big secrets and it's gave me Chilling Adventures of Sabrina vibes. I do wish there was more about Sean than Richard, because he was more interesting to me and I wanted more satanic panic freakouts.

This is the second book I've read by this author and I can say with certainty if you're a fan of Grady Hendrix you'll be a fan of Clay McLeod Chapman. I'll continue picking up this author's books!
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Wonderfully atmospheric, great characterizations, very interesting delve into the Satanic Panic era. 4/5 stars. I'm definitely going to be looking into Chapman's books going forward.
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Whisper Down The Lane is a great example of the 80s horror throwback movement that Grady Hendrix and his peers helped to launch. 

Chapman has a great ear for dialogue, and every relationship in the story benefits from how natural it all comes across. He even manages to avoid the pitfalls of a young child protagonist. It never feels like a kid thinking like an adult, and it avoids the corny over-doing of writing like a child. It’s right in the spot most writers want to be. 

It also helps that Chapman clearly did his research on the Satanic Panic of the 80s, and it feels like a very educated take of a subject I’ve always found fascinating. It never feels false or tawdry, and it’s nice that it’s treated with the respect it deserves. 

He also handles the internal, mental breakdown style of writing well, with constant italicized insertions as the book continues. It becomes hard to decipher what’s actually happening and what is the result of trauma, fracturing the protagonist’s mind. Through interviews between the child and a psychiatrist, Chapman illustrates both the injustices of improper, manipulative counseling that took place in the real daycare scandals of the 80s, and introduces a layer of mystery to the proceedings. We’re just as confused as the child, and subsequently, the adult. 

The split narrative, alternating between past and present, is also a great use of the format. It may show its hand a bit too soon, but it’s pretty obvious what’s going on anyway, so why waste time dancing around it?

An unfortunate downside, however, is that the ending feels a bit unearned and rushed. I’m trying to provide solid answers to the intriguing mystery, it actually makes things slightly more confusing, as not enough is fleshed out to make it feel worthwhile, but too much of another aspect makes the entire mystery feel unsatisfying. 

Still, this book is great for fans of Grady Hendrix and 1980s style horror, and Chapman is certainly an author to watch.
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CW: Two instances of ritualistic animal death

<i>What happens if you believe in a lie, believe it so much, with every fiber of your body? Does it become real, somehow? Does the lie become the truth? Your truth?</i>

Let me start off by saying this is a hard book to read. As a child of the 80s, I'm all too aware of the Satanic Panic and some of the very real cases that came out of that mass hysteria. There are a lot of moments to seethe over in <i>Whisper Down the Lane</i> - a character seemingly meant to be a Geraldo Rivera type that's just sensationalizing the situation, a child psychologist using phrases like "what are you, stupid? You don't want to be stupid, do you?" when speaking to one of the alleged victims, parents leading their kids with the answers they want during questioning - it's hard to stomach. While a lot of this reads as authentic - that is, many of those around my age probably remember the outcry over select shows and pop culture figures because they were "clearly" trying to corrupt our innocent little minds. (If I could insert an emoji of rolling eyes here, I totally would.)

But the other reason this book is hard to read is because Sean is just a kid who doesn't fully understand the repercussions of his actions. He doesn't want his mother to worry - they're getting a "fresh start" after all - and he thinks this one little white lie will help them both. But of course it doesn't and it <i>completely</i> blows up and while I could feel some sympathy for Sean, I felt none for the child psychologist or the other adults in his life that took his story and ran with it without trying to find any shred of proof.

The book jumps back and forth between 1983 and 2013, and we see how the past built to the case that is central to the book's plot. In the present, we begin to see certain parts of that story brought to life, which is a huge red flag for Sean, obviously. But here's the thing: it's not hard to figure out who the culprit is. From the moment they're mentioned, it's very obvious to the reader who's torturing him. And the rest of the book is basically seeing how far they'll go and waiting on Sean to catch up. It was a bit disappointing in that aspect for me; there's even one final twist in the last few pages that as long as you've paid attention, should be fairly obvious within a couple of lines of that part. Predictability isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I did find myself wanting a little <i>more</i> from the book because of it in this case.

Overall, I think it was a dark ride with a ton of research clearly done on the Satanic Panic. There were some predictable bits in there, and a couple of scenes and interactions that seemed unnecessary to me. It's a good book, but I don't think I could read it again simply due to the animal deaths and the anger that the adults in the book evoke in me.

Thanks to NetGalley for sending me the ARC!
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This is very different from what I normally read and it did not disappoint. I think this book is a soft opening to readers who are interested in reading/learning about the Satanic Panic in the 1980s. I like that the book does come full circle and the villain is not who you expect it to be.
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I was so excited to receive an eArc of this book, so I have to start off by sending out big thanks to NetGalley and Quirk Books. I am a huge fan of all things horror, the 80's (80's baby!) Quirk Books AND Clay McLeod Chapman so I was very hopeful that this book would be the perfect storm for me, and it was!
   This book starts out following Sean, a 5 year old boy in the early 80's, and Richard, a thirtysomething in the 2000's. We go back and forth between these two stories as the book goes on. Our 80's baby Sean finds himself at the beginning of a "fresh start" with his (newly) single mother. She appears to be doing her best at trying to keep it together and be there for her son while trying to scrape by, but you gotta do what you gotta do and so Sean finds himself being the last kid picked up from the neighborhood sitter more often than not. His increasing distance from his mother, coupled with the move to a new town and school understandably leave him feeling lost. He ends up saying some things that aren't so true to his mother, involving students and teachers from said new school, feeling it's getting him attention from his mother, and things really start to spiral out of control for everyone from that point forward, this is after all the age of the Satanic Panic folks.
   Meanwhile our 2000's thirtysomething Richard is an elementary school art teacher, who is trying to adjust to his newly married life, the thought of being a father to said new wife's young son, and grappling with the fact that he's teaching art to children now instead of actually making any art of his own. Can he even legit call himself an "artist" at this point? As he tries to get his bearings, weird things start happening here and there in his day to day life. Unsettling things at his school and home start to happen more and more until it really starts messing with his head and getting out of control for him.
   I really enjoyed this book. I was super bummed that I guessed what was going on, but that's more on me cuz I just read too many horror stories haha This in no way took away from my enjoyment of the book, and they still managed to sneak a twist or two in there that I absolutely did not see coming! I felt like the writing was so atmospheric it immediately drew me into the worlds of Sean and Richard and I felt like I was right there with them as their lives were spiraling into madness. Highly recommend. The book, not the spiraling into madness.
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A tense, well-written horror story that unfolds with gnawing dread. Loved the steady build and raced through this. Looking forward to more from this author.
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The nitty-gritty: Meticulously crafted and mind-bendingly creepy, Whisper Down the Lane is a riveting page-turner that's hard to put down.

Whisper Down the Lane is an extremely unsettling, paranoia-fueled psychological thriller that takes its ideas from some real life events and twists them into something new and horrifying. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but I loved it! This is the second Clay McLeod Chapman book I’ve read, and I’m so impressed by how skillfully he combines multiple story lines and eventually weaves them all together. 

The story alternates between two characters, Richard in 2013 and Sean in 1983. Richard is an art teacher at Danvers school and has recently married a woman named Tamara, another teacher at the same school. Tamara’s five year old son Elijah attends Danvers as well, and Richard is slowly but surely gaining Eli’s trust and hopes to officially adopt him. Richard’s peaceful life is interrupted one day when he discovers the mutilated body of the school’s pet rabbit strewn across the playing field, and even more shocking, there’s a birthday card sticking out of the rabbit’s body addressed to “Sean.”

In 1983, we meet five year old Sean, who has recently moved to a small town in Virginia with his mother. Sean understands that his mom is on the run from something, and that’s why they never stay in one place for long. Sean likes his new Kindergarten teacher Mr. Woodhouse, but he doesn’t like the school bully, who corners Sean on the playground and hits him. When Sean’s mom sees the bruises and asks how he got them, Sean decides to tell her a lie. Soon Sean finds himself in the middle of a scandal, which quickly spirals out of control. Six teachers at the school—including Mr. Woodhouse—are being investigated for child abuse and satanic practices, and Sean is forced to answer all sorts of questions that are much too adult for a five-year-old boy.

Richard has suppressed certain childhood memories, but suddenly, bits of the past are starting to break through. It’s getting harder and harder to separate the past from the present, and he’s convinced that someone is targeting him and his family. Could history be repeating itself? As Richard spirals into paranoia, the idyllic life he’s built with Tamara and Eli seems to be slipping away.

The story is inspired by the McMartin Preschool trial of 1983, where teachers at the school were accused of sexual abuse, although after a lengthy trial, all charges were dropped due to lack of evidence. Chapman takes this idea and runs with it but mixes in some elements from the “Satanic panic” of that same decade, making this a fascinating, multilayered story. While I wouldn’t call this a traditional horror story, there are horrific elements, including a couple of pretty graphic animal deaths, so do beware if that’s a trigger for you. Most of the “horror,” however, was of the psychological variety, and the author did a fantastic job creating a feeling of paranoia as Richard slowly loses touch with reality as more and more weird stuff starts happening to him, and that paranoia rubs off on the reader. Eventually the relationship between Richard and Sean is revealed (you may have guessed it already), and the mystery of what actually happened to Sean and how it connects to the present is what drives the plot.

There’s an overall creepy feeling to the story, which doesn’t come from any one thing, but a combination of a bunch of smaller elements. I think some readers are going to find certain parts creepier than others, at least that’s what happened to me. One short scene in particular reminded me of something I haven’t thought of in years: Sean has to go to a home daycare while his mom is working, and his descriptions of Miss Betty and her vegetable sandwiches reminded me of my own unpleasant experience in daycare when I was pretty young. Sometimes stories set in the past evoke nostalgic feelings, but in this book the past is full of ominous overtones.

The most horrific thing for me, though, was the way the adults manipulated the children. It starts with a parent, whose response to her child’s complaint “My teacher was mean to me!” balloons into the panicked question “Did your teacher touch you??” The author uses the idea of gossip and whispering to show how quickly rumors can spread (and the book title relates to that as well). It was horrifying to see the leading questions the parents would ask that pushed their kids to fabricate a story that could literally ruin lives. McLeod also intersperses some recorded interviews between Sean and a child “therapist” who literally bullies him into confessing to things that never happened. I was more shocked by these interviews than the animal cruelty, believe it or not.

If you’re a horror movie buff, you might recognize some of the characters’ names and other tidbits from such movies as Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, and I absolutely loved that Chapman included these subtle references in his story. He also does a great job of evoking the time period of the 80s by mentioning things like popular toys (Cabbage Patch Kids) and TV shows (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe ), which seem sweet and innocent, but somehow in Chapman’s hands they take on a sinister tone. In the 2013 timeline, the horrors of Sandy Hook are still fresh in parents’ minds, and the school administration has started doing lock down/active shooter drills. Add in the signs of satanic activity and speculation and you have a bunch of scared, paranoid parents on your hands. 

The tension slowly builds as both timelines slowly start to parallel each other, until the shocking conclusion. Clay McLeod Chapman has another winner on his hands with Whisper Down the Lane, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Big thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy.
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Copied from my goodreads.
Rated 2/5.

Content warnings: animal deaths/cruelty, gaslighting, allusions to sexual assault/abuse

Well. I hadn't heard about this author before, but the blurb made me curious. While the plot in general has a lot of promise, I can't help but feel like this would have worked better as a novella, or a much longer novel. After the 47% mark, I had to take a break from this book, because the cat's death really got me. Around that same mark, I figured out what was going on and who the perpetrator was, and I wasn't wrong. The entire latter half of the book felt flat and rushed to me, and made me wish I had either had more character building leading up to it, or a whole lot less. The main character felt hollow most of the time, and the further into the plot we go, the less did his actions make sense to me. There were definitely parts that made me genuinely uneasy (in particular the gaslighting and the way adults manipulated children both knowingly and unknowingly), but on the whole it wasn't enough to have me more invested in the characters or the story.

In the end, the book was fine; the writing flowed well, the parallel storytelling worked fine. I can imagine being a parent might make this a more distressing read, but all in all this ended up being something of a disappointment.
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Whisper Down the Lane is a really good book that grabbed my attention from the very beginning. My only issue is that I'm not really sure if I'd consider this horror. It has borderline horror tendencies but I consider it more thriller than anything else. Despite that the book is pretty fast pace and I liked all of the main characters. I especially liked Richard and how awesome he is!
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Whisper Down the Lane tells the story is told from the dual point of view 5 year old boy names Sean in 1982 and a man named Richard in 2013.  Sean told some lies that damned his teacher and helped spread confusion and paranoia throughout a community. Now 30 years later, someone wants to remind Richard that they remember what Sean did all those years ago. Who is this person who wants revenge against Sean or is it all just a figment of a guilt ridden person’s imagination?

Whisper Down the Lane is my second book I’ve read by Clay McLeod Chapman. This book deals with the Satanic Panic from the early 1980’s era. I was a young child during this time period and I vividly remember this craze. I remember people whispering about companies that were involved with and tried to indoctrinate people with pagan and/ or satanic beliefs. So, I was very excited when this title was released. It touched on this craze while absolutely perfectly capturing how some people truly believed that this was actually rampant across the United States. The questions that most people had after the panic was debunked was how did this happen and why. I think this book provides some interesting and believable answers to those questions. Clay McLeod Chapman deliverers another solid story that I devoured in one sitting.
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Thank you to the publishers for providing me with an eArc of this book in exchange for my honest review.

This book definitely intrigued me from the beginning and I was excited to read it and discover more. I really liked the switching between the character/time period POV's of Sean and Richard.

I really enjoyed the writing in this book, it was captivating and kept me on my toes! I was so on edge and just wanting to discover what was happening the whole time! 

It is a slower-paced book so at times it was hard to keep reading but the overall story kept me interested!
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Overall, I think this was a solid book. I wasn’t even alive when the satanic panic hit, but I feel like I’ve heard endless stories from older folks about the whole era. To see it brought to life, particularly in a horror format, was a ton of fun for me! I was also thoroughly impressed by the writing and overall plot. 

The only thing that bothered me was the pacing, which was a little too slow for me. This is a good read for horror fans!
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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.
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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.
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Subject matter is fascinating and right up my alley. I grew up in the satanic craze of the 80's and remember stories of possible satanic groups, false accusations under psychiatric care and a whole slew of fear. I was really excited to get into this read. I think it just missed the mark for me. I liked the writing, the plot, the subject matter; however, the graphic nature was just a bit too much for me. This is definitely an unsettling read.
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I had a hard time getting into Whisper Down the Lane. It's slower-paced, and I didn't really connect with the story or characters. I appreciate the research that went into this story, and I think it's a good pick for readers who want to learn more about Satanic Panic.
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In 1980, Sean and his mom moved to Greenfield, Virginia.  Like any new kid, Sean has a hard time fitting in at school, making friends is hard. He loves his teacher, Mr. Woodhouse, who is playful and welcoming. But when the accusations against the beloved teacher start, Sean is sucked into the chaos. He just wants everyone to like him, and now they do. 
  Its 2013 and Richard is loving life as a new husband, step-dad and art teacher.  Life is good until he finds the strange, ritualistic presents left for him at school. Soon he is being accused of the unthinkable, and he can't explain why its happening to him. Someone is trying to make him pay for what he did years ago. All he has to do is finally tell the truth..

When I was little, we used to play the game Telephone. It was usually an icebreaker on the first day of school. A really good way to get kids to connect and laugh. Someone would say a simple sentence like " I wear blue shoes", and it would be whispered into the next child's ear and then down the line. The last child then would say what the end result was. Usually something like, " My hair is new", or something completely different then the original sentence. This game, also known as " Whisper Down The Lane" is exactly what happened in this book.
 So many people lie ( children and adults) to manipulate and create a better outcome or environment for their own selfish needs. In this book, those lies hurt a lot of people and trickled on for years. Knowing the root of the lie, and seeing the outcome of it so many years later, was sad and eye opening. 
  There is some hinting to the Satanic Panic of the 80s in the story. I thought there was going to be more of a darker edge from it in the story, but that didn't happen. I actually think the book might have been better if it wasn't included at all. I think my expectations were for a darker story.
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Whisper Down the Lane is a creepy tale that’s impossible to put down or stop thinking about. Be prepared for a dark, sleep-interrupting read. Highly recommended, but not if you’re looking for light entertainment!
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Horror is a new genre for me, mostly because I am, unashamedly, a big chicken. But Clay McLeod Chapman’s Whisper Down The Lane sounded so intriguing that I just had to give it a go – and I am really very glad that I did. Part horror, part thriller, it feels as though it taps into the market of true crime too, without being a true crime novel. 
The reason it feels so true crime-esque is that the story is inspired by something that really did happen; the McMartin preschool trials and, more widely, the 1980s US ‘Satanic Panic’. If you’ve never heard of either of these things, I’d encourage you to go and look them up before you read Whisper Down The Lane. You don’t need to know anything to jump into the novel, but I think it makes the experience that much richer if you have some background first. 
The Satanic Panic was wild; a country-wide moral panic that essentially saw stories of Satanic ritual abuse flooding the national consciousness. Of 12,000 accusations in the US, absolutely none turned up any evidence for a well-organised systematically abusive Satanic cult, but that didn’t stop the outcry. The McMartin preschool trials were a well-known example of this wider problem; from 1983-1990, several members of staff a preschool in California were tried for involving children in systematic ritual abuse. All of the charges were dropped eventually, but not before it made an indelible mark on the zeitgeist. 
Whisper Down The Lane explores this rich history with a dual narrative; one thread following Richard, a man who doesn’t seem to have a past, as he goes about his life as an elementary school art teacher, husband and stepfather. It’s only when his past seems to be replaying itself that he starts to worry someone has finally caught up with him. The other thread focuses on Sean, a six year old boy who lives with his mother, and who – unwittingly – kicks off a hysterical panic surrounding his kindergarten teacher and other staff at his school who are accused of ritual abuse. 
Both of the threads are equally compelling to read, which is not always a guarantee for a duel narrative book. Sean is a sympathetic character. Of course he is. He’s only six years old, and we can see clear as day how he is being manipulated into saying what he does. Richard is more cynical and less easy to like, but I feel as though this is very much a deliberate choice on Chapman’s part. As we get to know him better, we can see that he is genuinely trying to be a good person – and especially a good stepfather to Elijah. 
Whisper Down The Lane’s thriller elements are strong, tied in with the true crime narrative, but the horror hasn’t been neglected. Here it is, for the most part, internal. Prompted by very few external factors – a couple of well-placed, disturbing and not at all gratuitous animal deaths – the horror then all turns inwards for Richard, as his paranoia takes a hold of him and doesn’t let him go. It grips us too; on occasion, I had to take a breather from reading. There were times that I genuinely couldn’t figure out if Richard was just being paranoid or if his concerns were actually valid, which all added up to a page turning read. 
But the true horror also comes from the uncomfortable truth that this happened in real life. The Satanic Panic ruined the lives of countless people, just as every moral panic in history has; from medieval witch trials to the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s and beyond, moral panics have only ever caused more harm to people who are often already vulnerable or marginalised. Chapman doesn’t shy away from that in Whisper Down The Lane; Richard’s fear of the people around him, friends and neighbours he thought he knew, is real and all-consuming. And, as Chapman points out, this fear is truly founded on something dangerous. There are people in authority who are doing harm here, but they aren’t the people accused of abuse; they’re the ones charged with dealing with it.
Whisper Down The Lane is a book for horror fans, thriller fans and true-crime fans – and I don’t think any one of those audiences would find it lacking.
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