With a new marriage and a chance at fatherhood, Richard Bellamy has a quiet life as an elementary school art teacher, but soon the security and comfort he’s built for himself is at risk. Someone’s out to remind him of a past left behind, when a white lie told by a boy horrified a nation. Trying to keep his family together, Richard has to face the truth.
(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)
I received this book in exchange for an honest review. I thank Quirk Books and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity.
Thankfully, I wasn’t around for the absolute mess that was the Satanic Panic that raged across the USA and other parts of the world, so I feel like I learned a lot from Whisper Down the Lane. Inspired by the rather disturbing McMartin preschool trial where several staff members were falsely accused of child abuse, Chapman created a version that was equally unpleasant. Alternating between dual narratives, one being a child’s perspective in 1983, the other an art teacher’s in the more modern day of 2013, the plot thoroughly explored the psychological effects relating to hysteria, paranoia, as well as the consequences of one’s actions. To put it simply, it was about humans doing human things, interference from the devil himself not required for events to get out of hand. I was interested despite not finding anything particularly creepy, conspiracy theories being thought-provoking, and in this case, infuriating. Five-year-old Sean believed that by lying about his teacher and appeasing the people around him, he was doing the right thing – his story’s a prime example of how adults use children to progress their agendas. This happens every day in the real world.
Saying that, my biggest issue was with Richard himself, his inability to complete sentences and actually say what he needed to left me frustrated, add to that his unreliability due to his rapidly declining mental health. It was a case where the whole ordeal could’ve been over had he just fessed up sooner rather than later, and while I appreciate complex, troubled characters that can prove challenging to understand, sometimes I’m just unable to mesh with them. Sean’s perspective was a lot more engrossing, his innocence taken advantage of, and I especially felt a lot when the suggestive questioning came into play.
In general, the plot had both highs and lows, the reveals that I felt were supposed to be significant twists being mostly predictable, however credit where it’s due, one got me pretty good and left me surprised. Also, there were elements throughout that could’ve been interpreted as supernatural, but they were vague, therefore I believed the only thing haunting Richard was his own personal demons. I wouldn’t recommend to a reader wanting a full on occult horror experience, this just isn’t that sort of book.
In conclusion: Whisper Down the Lane caused me to go down a rabbit hole, because while being aware of the hysteria of the Satanic Panic, I never made the effort to go in depth. Chapman depicted a young character swept up into a very adult world, manipulated and led to construct a story that would destroy lives. I couldn’t quite quell my irritation in some parts, mostly related to one specific half of the narrative, but overall it left me eager to know what would happen next. To be clear, I’d consider it more as a thriller with some mystery elements that were a tad obvious, but in the right hands, this novel will tick all the boxes.
Imagine a fib you told as a child. A little white lie. Now imagine that lie taking on a life of its own.
© Red Lace 2021
For me, the major horror is that Richard never truly got over what had happened. Sure, he went to therapy, but he wasn’t given the love and care that he really needed, so he merely buried his troubles. Which, as troubles tend to do, eventually unearthed themselves with the right stimuli.
There’s a horror to being a broken human being, your mind barely able to keep it together because of the trauma and guilt in your childhood. It’s often utilized alongside other sources of horror in fiction (like being chained to a bed in Gerald’s Game or exploring a haunted house in The Haunting of Hill House), but I honestly liked how it was utilized as the main source of horror here.
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He definitely buried his issues, yeah. There’s many psychological aspects to the book, and I liked them for the most part. You could even say Richard acted guilty, albeit unconsciously, because he never truly forgive himself for what happened. I just couldn’t help but get frustrated by him, though! As for putting it in a category, I think it touches on a few, and will be different for the individual reader.
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