Review: Whisper Down the Lane by Clay McLeod Chapman

Rating: 8/10


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.

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.


A big thanks to Black Crow PR and Quirk books for the review copy – but this in no way affected my review.

Whisper down the Lane is a fantastic, gripping psychological thriller that pulls inspiration from the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, based on the McCartney Preschool trials; it’s a chilling tale of the effect a lie can have, the hysteria it can create and just how far reaching the effects can be. It is authentic and I couldn’t put it down.

The plot sees Richard, a schoolteacher in 2013, whose past is creeping up to catch him; from the animal mutilations on the school field, to the appearance of an old friend, Mr Yucky, he is haunted by his own lies. Someone from the town is messing with him, and if he doesn’t catch up with them first, the trouble his lies caused as a child might. Also, in 1983, we follow Sean – a five-year-old boy – who holds the fate of his teacher in his hands. His teacher stands accused of satanic practices with his class because of the lies Sean has told, and the graphic testimony he has given. Only, Sean knows he’s telling the adults what they want to hear and know it would take just a word to stop it all. But he won’t. For Richard, the past will repeat itself, but this time he is not the victim.

I love the format on display here. We see two different timelines colliding – there’s the clever, slow trickle of clues that join them together. And at times blend them together. I’d never heard of the Satanic Panic before and come to learn that the book is well-researched and authentic as it could be in the matter. It really is an eye-opener and lends itself to intrigue. Not only did I come along for the thrill-ride, but it’s also a masterclass in the way testimony is coerced and perverted in the process. In the way lies can highjack a case, and in the way a certain narrative is pulled from a victim with suggestibility.

 With the initial parts of the book submersing us in the plot, leading us on in getting to know Richard and Sean as two-halves of a story, there’s hints of wrong that slowly creep up on you, little clues the reader can follow. Even if the plot is predictable, I like to be able to guess, to put my own theories together in a thriller, not to be given it. The slow trickle of the plot makes this fun, the clues lend themselves to speculation. In the final act, I just couldn’t have guessed how this one would turn out and that’s what I was here for, the sheer shock value of the ending.

Overall, this book took me out of my comfort zone. Psychological thrillers are not something I usually read but this had me gripped and has me thinking that I’ll be reading more from the genre. I’d recommend diving straight in if you’re familiar with the setting and genre. But please be aware that it features animal mutilation, mention of satanic practices and cannibalism.

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