If you grew up in the 1980’s, there is a chance that the “Satanic Panic” affected your life in some way. For myself, a nerdy, Dungeons & Dragons playing kid growing up in semi-rural New Mexico, the “Panic” glanced off of a lot of our community. There were always whispers of rituals and Satanic graffiti popping up in abandoned buildings, and many many rumors of both the humorous and downright terrifying swirled around us constantly. Proctor and Gamble were a company who promoted the occult through their product logos, Liz Claiborne went on Oprah and said she gave profits to a Satanic cult, and even McDonalds and the Smurfs were in on the rise of Satanism and the Mystical in our nation that was quickly sloughing off it’s good Christian roots.
This is the world that Mr. Chapman brings Whisper Down the Lane into.
This is the story of Richard… or is it Sean… an art teacher at an elementary school in a sleepy little town that has just gained a bit more attention by the hipster city-set looking to come to somewhere “quaint” to raise their brood.
Something, however, is rotten in the city of Danvers, and it very strangely starts to mirror Richard’s — or is it Sean’s — past.
Then we start to learn some things. Richard Bellamy used to be Sean Crenshaw: a boy who, in 1982, was pulled into what can only be described as one of the biggest shitstorms of the Satanic Panic.
Rather than say anything more about the plot of this gem, let’s take a look at Mr. Chapman’s approach to building terror and uncertainty into a story. In The Remaking, Mr. Chapman totally drew me in with an approach he similarly uses here in Whisper Down the Lane. I like to think of it of the old adage about putting a frog in a pot of water and slowly bringing it to a boil. The frog (allegedly) won’t notice until it is far too late. That is how Mr. Chapman writes horror, and Whisper Down the Lane is a perfect example. Yeah, this weird Sean story is building in alternate chapters, but Richard really has his shit together. Then, quite suddenly, peanut butter meets chocolate, and the whole house of cards explodes. There is such a subtlety of tone, and even sanity, that just makes this novel a joy to read. Yes, it’s not perfect, but it is a wonderful homage to so many other masters of the craft. Certain scenes and situations may seem clichéd, but that is because they draw from the very origin of the cliché, and that is the purest form of flattery. Plus, it really does add to the depth of the story in a way that isn’t remotely cheesy or contrived.
Hell, there’s even a “made for TV” movie reference in there.