Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Whisper Down the Lane by Clay McLeod Chapman


WHISPER DOWN THE LANE is a psychological horror novel that obviously draws heavy inspiration from the McMartin preschool trial and the "Satanic panic" of the 1980s. It is told in two POVs, one POV from a boy named Sean who lives with his single mother in the 1980s. The other POV is from a jaded art teacher named Richard in the 2010s and his own family. As the book goes on, and the two stories begin to mirror each other, the reader learns how the two connect.

I actually learned a lot about cases like these because I was a psychology major in school and one of the areas I chose to specialize in was cognition. In one portion of my course, we learned a lot about false memories. One of the ways that false memories can be created is by leading questions, which is why police need to be trained in the types of questions they can ask witnesses-- due to the potential of interview contamination. Even the way a question is asked can bias a witness, and as we can see here in this book, small children can be particularly susceptible to those in positions of authorities.

From a research perspective, I think this book was done very well. Anyone who is at all familiar with these cases resulting from the moral panic and mass hysteria is going to recognize the parallels. I also appreciated the author listing all of his sources in the back of the book; it's wonderful that he gave credit where credit is due. (Fewer authors seem to be listing bibliographies these days.) Where this book failed, for me, was from a story-telling perspective. I felt like this author was trying to channel Stephen King, and noticed several of King's tics here-- disembodied quotes and dialogue, insertions of seemingly innocent pop-culture slogans or song lyrics used in a sinister way-- but it kept pulling me out of the narrative because the way it was done felt so cheesy, and it was done so much.

I also... didn't really like or sympathize with any of the characters? Everyone was so awful. I felt sorry for Sean but... what he did was bad. And Richard wasn't great, either. He's so cynical that he makes pulp noir detectives look like Polyannas. And while I can understand why he acts and thinks the way he does given his background, it made it hard to root for him or be invested in his story. There's also a pretty graphic animal death in this book that occurs at just under halfway through (47% by my count?) that I found pretty upsetting. I kept reading, hoping that the ending would somehow redeem the book for me, but it just ended up making everything feel just as bleak and misanthropic and hopeless.

Usually, Quirk books are fun and campy-- kind of like an homage to pulp horror. One of their most famous authors is Grady Hendrix, and THE SOUTHERN BOOK CLUB'S GUIDE TO SLAYING VAMPIRES is about as these books usually get, but the horror in that book felt like dark comic book violence, whereas this, tonally, felt much more grim and desolate. I'm reading another book from them right now called LYCANTHROPY AND OTHER CHRONIC ILLNESSES which is more typical of their brand: light, quirky fiction, often with a bizarre supernatural bent.

I didn't hate this book and I think people who love depressing 80s horror movies will love this. I, however, did not.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

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