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What Kind of Mother


What Kind of Mother

Clay McLeod Chapman has been making waves in the horror genre for years, with books like THE REMAKING and GHOST EATERS earning him comparisons to favorites like Paul Tremblay and even Stephen King. In WHAT KIND OF MOTHER, Chapman proves not only that he deserves this level of praise, but that he’s on course to become his own sort of legend of the genre.

In Brandywine, Virginia, on the coast of the Chesapeake Bay, everybody’s business belongs to everybody else…and everybody belongs to the water. The rivers of the middle peninsula have fed the families of the Bay for ages, whether through food or business. And in a world of unstable economies and dysfunctional families, many trust the water more than they trust their own neighbor. But, of course, that doesn’t stop all of them from convening at the farmers market every Sunday, their own countrified version of church, town hall and court, where gossip is currency and every story has more than one side.

"WHAT KIND OF MOTHER is Clay McLeod Chapman at his best. I feel certain that this will be his breakout, crossover hit, the kind of genre-bending horror that can lure in even the most timid of readers."

Here we meet Madi Price, who has come back to Brandywine despite her promise to the contrary. A single mother who had her daughter when she was only a teenager, Madi has returned for that same daughter. Kendra recently has reconnected with her father and is now spending more and more time with him and his magazine-perfect wife.

Descended from a long line of seers, Madi makes her way by reading palms at the farmers market. She can read the lines of a hand about as well as she can read the mind of the rivers, but she can read people even better. It’s not a lucrative career, but it keeps her housed in the local motel until she can find long-term, stable housing for her and Kendra. Sure, the same old ladies who were cracking jokes about her in high school are still holding court at their vendor tents, but it’s not all bad. And then she sees Henry McCabe.

Henry, who Madi dated for about three months in high school, has always been the one who got away. Their breakup hurt her so terribly that she got blind drunk, fell into bed with another no-good teenager, and created Kendra. For Madi, Henry represents both the best and worst parts of her life, the best and worst of every decision that has landed her back in Brandywine…and, according to the ladies, he has a story of his own.

Five years ago, Henry’s wife died by suicide in their home. When Henry discovered her body, it was the least of the terrible surprises he would face that day. His infant son, Skyler, went missing without a trace. Henry has been cleared of the crime, but the citizens of Brandywine love their gossip and have their own theories: it was either Henry’s wife, who was “never really one of us,” or Henry, which means that his picture-perfect grieving father bit would be the creepiest act of all time. But Madi knows Henry and the kind of man he is. When she attempts to read his palm, she is confident that Skyler (some part of him anyway) is out there.

As Madi and Henry grow closer, Madi’s visions of Skyler become clearer and clearer, all focused on a duck blind, the river beneath it evoking a dark, watery grave. Soon Madi is losing time, as well as focus on her own life --- including her beloved daughter --- and is becoming just as obsessed as Henry is with locating Skyler. But will they find a happy, healthy five-year-old, hidden away by some elusive kidnapper; a tiny, waterlogged corpse; or something far, far worse?

Chapman kicks off WHAT KIND OF MOTHER with every parent’s worst nightmare: a missing child. His vividly described, totally immersive setting of the Chesapeake Bay is perfectly juxtaposed by the horror Henry has lived through; think “Gilmore Girls” meets IT. And then he adds a dash of body horror --- creepy, gruesome, deliciously evocative body horror --- timely explorations of both parenthood and motherhood, and wraps it all up in a chilling Southern Gothic packaging. This is a horrifying read, but it is also poignant, a surprisingly thought-provoking analysis of the sacrifices a parent is willing to make for their child. After all, what kind of mother (or, ahem, parent) wouldn’t do anything to give their son or daughter their best shot, to save them from harm, or even to bring them back to life?

WHAT KIND OF MOTHER is Clay McLeod Chapman at his best. I feel certain that this will be his breakout, crossover hit, the kind of genre-bending horror that can lure in even the most timid of readers. Just be careful: there’s way more than you ever could anticipate lurking beneath the surface of this watery, haunting hit.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on September 22, 2023

What Kind of Mother
by Clay McLeod Chapman