First published 1967; this 'specially abridged NEL edition' 1970
Helen Young is unnerved when she receives a phone call from a child who calls himself Michael. He says that he’s home, but there’s no one there, and he wants his mother. Michael was Helen’s nephew. And he died years ago. She’s about to put it down to a childish prank in very bad taste, when the phone rings again. And again.
She calls her remaining nephew, Craig, who’s a psychologist and duly rationalises it all away.
When Craig tells his colleague and girlfriend Amy Lawler, she has a more imaginative suggestion. As well as being a psychologist, Amy’s fascinated by spiritualism, and inclines to the belief that Helen is being contacted by Michael’s ghost.
Michael wants revenge on those he holds responsible for his mother's death.
Then the first of the deaths occurs, an agonising death brought by a suicidaly-maddened swarm of bees. Is it murder? Ella Britton swears that she saw Michael standing nearby in the dark that night.
She knows that Michael died. She was at his funeral. And if he hadn’t died, he’d be a grown man by now. Later a child enters the narrative, but he wouldn’t have been able to place any phone calls.
Sheriff Hap Wallbrook mentions the death to a former homicide detective who’s been living in the area a couple of years, the gloriously-named, scooter-riding Doremus Brightlaw. And although it’s nearly half-way through the book, you know that a character with a name like that is just going to take the reins from here on in. He does, and it’s great.
This is the second John Farris novel I’ve read, and like the other one, All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By – a story about voodoo and the legend of the lamia – this one has its share of spectacular deaths, including one where the victim’s body appears coming over a waterfall to come to rest at the feet of some sightseers - and a quite grotesquely lunatic denouement.
This novel has been filmed, but not successfully in the author’s opinion. The story is that the film’s intended producers spent a lot of money on it, then pulled out, and the project languished until it was made into a TV movie in 1972. Farris also wrote The Fury, filmed by Brian De Palma.
Why isn’t John Farris better known?
“I don't go out of my way to be famous," Farris told Christopher Lockett, writing for The Atlanta Journal Constitution in 1995. "It's not my personality. I don't work at it as much as I should, according to the publishers."
Is he a recluse? "Let's put it this way," said Farris. "If Anne Rice has a book signing, she lines them up around the block. Stephen King has a huge staff just to deal with the 10,000 letters he gets a year. I have a book signing, I get 25 or 30 people. So I don't go on book tours. My books sell just as well without them."