Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Written by Brandon Ford
Published by Arctic Wolf Publishing
Imagine yourself walking down the snowy sidewalk in New York City. It’s a blustery day, wind cuts through your jacket like the proverbial knife, and you’d really just like to get somewhere warm and dry. You pass a pay phone, and it rings. Would you answer it? Jake hopes you would. He’s watching from his apartment three stories above, and if you do, he’ll try to talk you into coming up for a little visit. Oh, and while you’re there, he’ll kill you and rape your corpse.
Pay Phone is a disturbing look at loneliness told from the points of view of an aspiring actress, her corporate ladder-climbing roommate, a slumlord, a social worker, and Jake. In Jake’s case his isolation has him so boggled he talks to “Susan,” a disembodied voice that only he can hear and that urges him to indulge in his insane appetites. It is that loneliness that drives all of the characters to do the things they do, like sleep with the boss, answer a pay phone and agree to meet a stranger, or even kill. The characters are very distinct in their portrayals. There are no incidents of wondering who is talking when, as they all sound very different from one another. However, it is quite ironic that, in their loneliness, most of the characters push each other away.
The book doesn’t skimp on the grisly details. While Jake is a smooth talker on the phone, in his apartment he is a feral animal. The deaths are disturbingly detailed, sometimes painfully so. There are several points in this novel where Ford could have gone for the kill, watched the victim bleed out, and left the reader feeling satisfied, but instead he brings us through every brutal moment. It gives real squirm-inducing moments, and the feeling doesn’t leave for a while after reading them.
Still, it seems odd that someone would answer a pay phone and agree to meet the stranger on the other end, but stranger things have happened. While the reader may console himself that he’d never be that stupid, the cities are littered with people desperate enough to take that kind of chance, and that’s what Ford plays on. The end result is disturbing, bloody, and vicious. Pay Phone is not for the weak-hearted, but it’s a good read nonetheless.
4 out of 5
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