Sometimes evil is closer than you think
Richard is flying high in life – He’s married to Tamara, loving being a parent to her son Elijah, delivering an art curriculum at a local elementary school. But when it rains, it pours – his misfortunes start with the discovery of a birthday card addressed to Richard… hidden under the ritualistically murdered mascot rabbit. As if that wasn’t weird enough, it’s not Richard’s birthday. It’s Sean’s.
Who’s Sean, you ask? Well, let me take you back to the ’80s. Sean is a 5-year-old preschooler who lives with his single mother, who works hard to make ends meet and be the best parent she can be. When she receives a letter from Sean’s preschool stating that his teacher is under investigation, Sean and his mother find themselves in the middle of one of the most significant trials the country had seen at that point.
Now, someone is determined to make someone paid the price for Sean’s lies, and they are making sure Richard remembers what Sean did.
The book through my criteria lens:
It was pretty clear from the beginning that Whisper Down the Lane isn’t a typical horror. In my opinion, Chapman masterfully built an atmosphere that felt real. Whisper Down the Lane is inspired by actual events; even though it is purely a work of fiction, I thought that the author captured the essence of what it must have been like to be a key player in the McMartin preschool trials. The solution was fair and consistent with the book’s narrative, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself while reading the book (even though I was unnerved at times).
Whisper Down the Lane is told through Richard’s, an adult in the present time, and Sean’s, a child in the past POV. This choice really worked for me, even more so when Chapman brought both narratives together terrifically.
The main characters were well developed, especially Sean’s arc. I felt every second of his distress and the effects the incident had on his life. There is just one particular character that I would have liked to follow longer than we did in this book, but that’s me nitpicking.
Also, because Whisper Down the Lane was marketed as horror, I wouldn’t have minded some more occult or cult vibes.
My personal feelings:
In my opinion, Whisper Down the Lane is a psychological horror (is that even a thing? It should be…). I mean to say that the book is 100% psychological but a blend of thriller and horror. The horror within the book is human; what makes it terrifying is not the devil or the occult, but our inherent evil nature that can lead some people to cause irreparable harm to others without any remorse.
Whisper Down the line is inspired by the Satanic Panic of the 1980s (which I only heard of now, as I grew up in Brazil), but it’s very much current. It touches on a very contemporary problem of authority figures (parents, psychologists, police, etc.) asking leading questions and coercing false testimonies without any regard to the accused or the mental health of the witness. Can you imagine how much strain a child’s psyche endures when they are convinced they were involved in devil worship, abused by adults, practiced cannibalism, and took part in occult rituals? The fact that this happened to preschoolers in real life turns my stomach.
As with its real-life counterpart, the lives in this book were deeply affected and changed permanently. Sean’s and Richard’s stories were compelling, empathetic, intense, and distressing. The connection between the two narratives was evident from the beginning; I felt the alternation added to the book’s suspense.
I had to put this book down a few times, especially during interrogations, because the unease the scenes caused me was tremendous. I wanted to jump into the pages and protect Sean. Not to mention, the psychologist’s questions and the darn puppet were terrifying. Chapman’s talent is evident in his characterization of Sean: I could see myself in his shoes – confused, afraid, trying to say what adults wanted to hear as if pleasing them will be the only way to end things. I felt the same during another part of the story that I won’t spoil for you.
A strong sense of foreboding permeates the entire narrative in this visceral, evocative cautionary tale. And that, to me, IS horror. Whisper Down the Lane will linger with me for a while.
My total rating: 4.75
Disclaimer: Even though I couldn’t wait and purchased Whisper Down the Lane, I was also gifted a copy of the e-book by the publishers in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, Quirk Books, Clay McLeod Chapman and NetGalley for my e-ARC.