NIGHT CALLS by Rex Anderson


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A crazed killer stalks Houston reenacting his childhood shotgun murder of his mother: strained psychobabble from the author of Cover Her With Roses (1969). Chad Palmer is a Houston lighting-fixtures store owner who has just shaved off his beard; one night, as he's running his fingers over his babysmooth cheeks, he receives a phone call from a man who is apparently killing a terrified woman and wants Chad to listen in: muffled groans, rising shrieks, finally, boom! It's not a hoax -- more calls ensue, more shotgunned women are found. The caller knows who Chad is and where he works, seeks his approval desperately, but seems to hate him at the same time. By now the cops have gotten into the act (led by beautiful Detective Sharon Reason, with whom Chad soon has a meaningful relationship), but the computer-wise caller uses sophisticated phone techniques to evade their traces. A not-too-bright shrink consulting on the case advises Chad to ""reject"" the caller simply by leaving his answering machine on; not liking answering machines any better than most people, the caller goes into a major fit of pique and zaps four more people in quick succession. Finally, after tapes of his voice are played on the evening news, he's identified as Bart Braden, a young man who turns out to be a former mailman of Chad's. The police close in, but Bart grabs three hostages, whom he then exchanges for Chad, who manages to gentle the guy into putting down the shotgun and telling his tale: an abused child, Bart had finally gotten fed up when his mother tossed his prized hamsters to the cats and then--the last straw--began hitting him over the head with their cage. He blew her away, not unreasonably, and killed his father for good measure. When Chad shaved off his beard, he looked just like Barr's dead father, and this set Bart off on the killing-and-calling spree. . . All in all, screwy motivation, pallid prose, and a plot that could've been phoned in.

Pub Date: March 31st, 1986
Publisher: St. Martin's