THE CALLING by Bob Randall


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Randall worked up some real chills with death-threats against a glossy background in The Fan (now a film). But this time, though Randall's mostly readable, low-protein prose may suck you in, the threats are more silly than scary. The lady in peril here is nice Susan Reed of Manhattan--wife of lawyer Lou, mother of wee Andrea, owner of beloved dog Sweet William, chum of promiscuous Tara (Susan's colleague at a commercial-art firm, heavy on gothic-novel covers). And Susan's panic begins when--after a few creepy omens (a dead squirrel, a neighbor's suicide)--she gets a phone call with nothing but silence coming through the receiver: ""there was evil on the other end of the line."" Soon the calls start coming frequently (even from pay phones). The same thing also sometimes happens when Susan is making a call. And then the phone at home seems to drive Sweet William crazy, even to send a plague of grasshoppers into the apartment! What's going on? Well, no one seems to know--and a helpful lady at the phone company who tries to trace the calls is soon exploded by her own computer. So Susan, who has unsuccessfully been pleading ""with the shiny black malevolent servant of Satan,"" tries to flee by driving away from the city. But that old devil dial-tone follows her everywhere (""It knows everything!"")--tormenting her with faked voices of friends and family, coaxing her over to the devil's side, sending her a human lover to seduce her, and finally triumphing: ""The phone slowly moved to the center of the room and levitated there, spewing its hot, evil-smelling flatulence."" Not all that different from Rosemary's Baby? Well, maybe. But Randall is no Ira Levin, and even in this very short book the cop-out Satanic explanation becomes apparent all too soon--at which point most non-occult readers will tune out. So, despite the shiny Bloomingdale's style (which is often too cutely clotted with parentheses), this winds up as merely another Satan-is-after-your-soul shrieker--with an extra kicker for those who already have a phone phobia . . . and just a hint of a tongue-in-cheeky swipe at Ma Bell.

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 1981
Publisher: Simon & Schuster