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Whisper Down The Lane Clay Mcleod Chapman Main

"Whisper Down the Lane" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Quirk Books

whisper down the lane clay mcleod chapman poster large

Written by Clay McLeod Chapman
2021, 336 pages, Non-Fiction
Released on 6th April 2021

Review:

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 AC/DC, 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!) were quite common. 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 find 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 AC/DC 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 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, strengthening as the novel progresses. Another strength 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 earlier are uncannily resurrected, 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 is 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.

Check out Jennifer's review of McLeod's previous novel, The Remaking, behind the link.

Grades:

Overall: fourstars Cover
Buy from Amazon US.
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Buy from Amazon UK.
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About The Author
Tony Jones
Author: Tony Jones
Staff Writer
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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