When Michael Calls

I was in the mood to blog about a good horror novel tonight, so I pulled a few from my shelves. Incidentally, these shelves are one of the few sources of tension in my marriage (or rather the books that inhabit them), and I’m currently in the Knowing My Wife Is Right about Downsizing My Book Collection but Still Being Too Stubborn to Admit It stage. But dang it, who knows when the The Encyclopedia of Rare Australian Marsupials might come in handy? Research! I tell my wife. It’s needed for research!

“And that book of Alexander Pope criticism you’re still holding onto from that grad class you took twelve years ago?” my wife asks.

“Um….research?” I say.

“You’ve never even opened it.”

I cross my arms and cradle the book of criticism a little tighter. “Well, I might.”

At that point she usually sighs, goes downstairs, and leaves me with the crappy critical-essays-about-Pope book and the mating rituals of the southern hairy-nosed wombat.

Score one for my side!

The Hairy-Nosed Wombat

Anyway, the book I decided to blog about tonight is When Michael Calls. It’s by John Farris, an author everyone should know, but one with whom I fear many are unfamiliar. In case you’re in the latter camp, this isn’t the guy who invented the Ferris wheel. If he would have, it would probably go fast enough to make your head explode or perhaps cough out its riders at the apex of its revolution and send them plummeting to their deaths. That’s the kind of writer we’re talking about.

With a Cover Like That, It's No Wonder There Are Only Two Reviews

I’m going to give you a very vague picture of the book, but that’s by design. If I were to tell you more, it’d be ruining things, and that’s the last thing I want to do with this blog (unless you consider revealing the mating habits of hairy-nosed wombats a spoiler—that’ll be one of my future posts, by the way…look for it right after my examination of dialectical paradigms in the minor essays of Alexander Pope).

"I told you to put me on the no-call list!"

From Amazon, everyone’s favorite mom and pop bookstore: “When Helen Connolly receives a phone call from a little boy claiming to be her nephew Michael, she must discover if the caller is indeed Michael and what he wants, because Michael has been dead for sixteen years.”

Okay, that description kind of sucks, doesn’t it? It also doesn’t tell you much of anything. The novel could be R.L. Stine‘s latest Goosebumps opus, or throw in an abusive husband and a wife finding enlightenment in the bed of a Mongolian yak shepherd and you’ve got an Oprah book.

A screenshot from the 1972 made-for-TV movie (I'm assuming Michael called her)

In his introduction for the book, Stephen King calls it, “…a tightly constructed marvel of plot, and it spirals up and up to a nerve-racking, nail-biting, sweaty climax.” High praise, no? And as usual, I agree with King. The book is lean and mean and scary and ferocious. It also only has two reviews on Amazon, one of which gives it one star. Now people can disagree with me all they want. I might never talk to them again or acknowledge they’re still alive, but that’s normal, right? The point is, by month’s end, I want Amazon to be glutted with four and five-star reviews for this fine novel.

Still not sold? Alright, I’ll share a couple observations about the novel that might just sway you. One, it’s an incredibly quick read. That isn’t to say the book’s poorly written or simplistic—it’s neither. But Farris knew what kind of story this was and simply let ‘er rip. The thing reads like a runaway train (with a boxcar full of killer bees).

Secondly (and lastly), I’ll say this. There are books that surprise me. There are books that shock me. And then there are books that once or twice bash me over the head so powerfully and so unexpectedly that I sit there reeling in a kind of dopey fugue state for several minutes just marveling about what the author has just accomplished.

A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin does that. Thomas Tryon‘s The Other does it too.

When Michael Calls belongs in the same category. And that, my friends, is saying a lot.

Pope Criticism...Cheese Grater...Pope Criticism...

Good night, Friends. I’m going to go upstairs now to learn more about Alexander Pope. Or shred my bare knuckles on a cheese grater. Whichever sounds best at the time.



4 thoughts on “When Michael Calls

  1. Wow…I haven’t heard of this book until now. I am going to get it based on this. I love collecting old paperbacks, I have shelves and shelves of splatterpunk novels from the eighties that I adore. Thanks for this!


  2. No problem at all, Krist! And I’m not at all surprised about your shelves of eighties novels. You seem like a writer and a reader who appreciates his heritage. There’s some great stuff being written now, but man, there was also some amazing stuff written back in the fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties.


  3. Loved Tryon’s and Levin’s books, but I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never read this (I’ve damn near managed to read every other horror novel ever written), so I’m going to keep an eye out for this, read it, and hopefully rectify that Amazon review debacle, because I’ve loved some of Farris’s other work.

    Great blog, by the way. Very entertaining. I’ll be checking in often.


  4. Excellent, Kealan. I hope you enjoy it. I’ve read some of Farris’s stuff but need to read others (Son of the Endless Night, The Axman Cometh, Minotaur, etc.).

    And thank you very much for your kind words about the blog. I’m a newbie at this, but if you’re enjoying it I must not be doing it too disastrously. 🙂


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