What Kind of Mother by Clay McLeod Chapman

What Kind of Mother by Clay McLeod Chapman A horror book review by Jim McLeod (no relation)

“Jaws made me terrified of the sea, Masterton made me terrified of Ells, and now What Kind of Mother by Clay McLeod Chapman has ensured I will never eat crabcakes again!!”

Every now and then, a book challenges you to define it in a way that makes it understandable to the readers of your review. Whether in terms of genre, style or plot, What Kind of Mother by Clay McLeod Chapman is one such book. Don’t get me wrong, this is, without a doubt, a horror novel. When the proverbial poop hits the fan, there is some genuinely upsetting and terrifying imagery on show here. That will satisfy those horror fans who like their horror books to be on the slightly more extreme side of the genre. It is more the journey to this point in the narrative, and what comes after that sits there staring at the reviewer with a sly look in its eyes. Daring me to put into even the most straightforward terms what the hell you just read.  

Don’t get me wrong, What Kind of Mother by Clay McLeod Chapman is a fantastic work of fiction and a horror book. Chapman, who was already a must-read author for this reviewer, has delivered a horror novel that sticks two fingers up at our expectations at what at first glance looks like a swampy southern gothic horror novel.  

Chapman’s narrative voice is critical to the success of What Kind of Mother. It is a horror novel that is easy to read. What I mean by that is the rhythm of Chapman’s writing sweeps you up like a riptide and pushes you along each page and paragraph until you are happily drowning in a rich, embracing fictional world filled with interesting characters, broken protagonists and a wonderfully disturbing “monster”. I felt as though I was walking just behind Madie as she walked down the streets of Brandywine. This Virginian town’s sights, sounds and smells were laid down on the page in full Dolby Vision. Allowing the story to be a fully immersive experience. (Although I could have done without it being so immersive as the horror began, I’m staying well away from water or any place with crabs for the rest of my life.)

Maddie’s and Henry’s stories are told from a dual narrative viewpoint in What Kind of Mother. This storytelling technique is particularly effective as it allows both characters, who are deeply hurt by their failures as parents, to tell their own stories.It allows the reader to sympathize more fully with characters that, at first glance, might seem selfish and rather unlikable. These aren’t your chiselled chin, buxom-chested hero and heroine. These are characters that are as flawed and fallible as you and I. You will be invested in their story within the bigger story of this horror novel.  

What Kind of Mother starts as a simple missing child/police procedural novel, but Chapman isn’t silly to leave it at that. The author cleverly peppers the initial part of the novel with enough hints and peeks behind the curtains to keep reminding the reader that something truly evil lies at the heart of this novel. And when the novel presents its true horrors, the shift in narrative style will genuinely unsettle you. I can picture Chapman sitting there like a cat with that same look on their face that they have when you wake up to find they have presented you with a dead animal on your bed. And trust me, folks, this is a beautiful thing.  

What Kind of Mother deals with many themes that some of you may find disturbing on a personal level. However Chapman deals with these subjects with a sensitive and mindful eye. Grief is central to this story in terms of being the novel’s central theme and integral to the development and explanation of what happens in the story. Almost all of the main characters suffer some form of trauma. Mainly from being a parent or, in some cases, not being a parent. Regret also plays an integral part in this story as these desperate characters look to the past to find happiness in the now. But as we all know, that will never happen in a novel like this.  

You will notice that I am deliberately vague about the “evil monster” in this novel. What Kind of Mother is a novel that is best read with as little foreknowledge as possible. All I will say is the nature of the monster is a refreshing take on horror monsters. Chapman’s previous novels have never been simple A to B stories.

He has always tried to play with narrative structure and storytelling techniques. What Kind of Monster takes it to an all-new level. It is wholly and utterly successful as a chilling, memorable, rich horror novel. I suffered from a major reading slump, and What Kind of Monster blew that slump away with such vigour that I have since read more books in the last two weeks than in the previous six months. For that, Mr Chapman, thank you both for being a brilliant writer and curing my reading slump. 

What Kind of Mother by Clay McLeod Chapman

What Kind of Mother by Clay McLeod Chapman horror book

A palm reader is swept into a bizarre missing-child case in terrifying Southern Gothic page-turner. With a twist you won’t see coming, from the “21st century’s Richard Matheson” (Richard Chizmar, Chasing the Boogeyman.)

Perfect for fans of T. Kingfisher and Paul Tremblay.

After striking out on her own as a teen mother. Madi Price is forced to return to her hometown of Brandywine, Virginia, with her seventeen-year-old daughter. With nothing to her name, she scrapes together a living as a palm reader at the local farmer’s market.

It’s at the market that she reconnects with her high school boyfriend Henry McCabe. Now a reclusive local fisherman whose infant son, Skyler, went missing five years ago. Now everyone in town is sure Skyler is dead, but when Madi reads Henry’s palm. Madie is haunted by strange and disturbing visions that suggest otherwise. As she follows the thread of these visions, Madi discovers a terrifying monster waiting at the centre of the labyrint. And it’s coming for everyone she holds dear.

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  • Jim Mcleod

    Jim "The Don" Mcleod has been reading horror for over 35 years, and reviewing horror for over 16 years. When he is not spending his time promoting the horror genre, he is either annoying his family or mucking about with his two dogs Casper and Molly.

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