By A.E. Santana
In 1982, five-year-old Sean Crenshaw and his mother, Susan, are starting fresh in the small town of Greenfield. Although he doesn’t understand why, Sean can see in his mother the eagerness for everything in their new life to be perfect. So, when he’s bullied at school, Sean doesn’t offer up the truth and instead inadvertently begins a witch hunt amid the Satanic Panic. Decades later, kindergarten teacher Richard Bellamy is haunted by the lies of a child and the fear of the community those lies fed. To save his life, and the life of his family, Richard must face his past and the truth of his actions.
Whisper Down the Lane is a thriller/horror novel by Clay McLeod Chapman, focusing on the ripple effect of lies, the innocence and fragility of childhood, and the crushing madness of the mob mentality. Told in alternating chapters from Sean in 1982 and Richard in 2013, the novel serves up the past and present while dripping in clues of what really happened (and is happening) at a steady pace. This format helps to heighten the suspense of the plot and anxiety of the reader, making Whisper Down the Lane a page-turner.
The Satanic Panic was a very real movement in the United States during the 1980s, where churches, mothers, and families launched a war on anything they deemed evil and corrupting (from heavy metal to Cabbage Patch Kids). Whisper Down the Lane cultivates that alarm and frenzy. Through the eyes of Sean, the reader sees where events go horribly wrong and, like Sean, feel powerless to make it better. With Richard, the reader shares his confusion, dread, and eventual hysteria as the past repeats itself. Chapman creates two voices—Sean’s and Richard’s—that are individual yet obviously linked, crafting a smooth and effortless switch between chapters right up to the end.
Chapman also makes use of fictional newspaper clippings, television broadcast transcripts, and therapy session transcripts not only to introduce information in a creative way but to show how easy it is to mistreat evidence. Miscommunication and the poor and insensitive handling of data is a real-world issue that continues to be a burden on society. In Whisper Down the Lane, Chapman brings this issue front and center with a fictional story that could easily have been truth.
For horror fans fascinated with psychological thrillers, cult ideologies, and the Satanic Panic, Whisper Down the Lane is a chilling adventure in all these areas. Treading on themes of childhood innocence and crowd zealotry, this novel is also a mesmerizing read for those interested in the horror that is people.
A.E. Santana is a Southern California native who grew up in a farming community surrounded by the Sonoran Desert. A lover of horror and fantasy, her works can be found in Latinx Screams, Demonic Carnival III, and other horror anthologies. She is the managing editor for Kelp Books, the paranormal/true horror editor for Kelp Journal, and the co-editor for The Coachella Review’s monthly column, Voice to Books. A.E. Santana is a member of the Horror Writers Association and a founding playwright for East Valley Repertory Theatre in Indio, California. She has been a moderator for several horror panels, including “No Longer the Scream Queen: Women’s Roles in Horror.” She received her MFA in fiction from the University of California, Riverside's low-residency program. Her perfect day consists of a cup of black tea and her cat, Flynn Kermit.