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The title was Deadline, Deathline, Phoneline... Something like that. But nothing I search for turns back the right book. I remember the cover having an old candlestick style phone, and maybe telephone poles in the background. There might also be a coffin, maybe in the background. The story was set in maybe the 1970-80s.

I read this book as a CD-based audiobook as a kid (2000-2005ish?), and it was way WAY out of my depth. Picked it up from a public library, and it wasn't new by any means. I recall weighing the choice between this book and The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison; ironic that the one I remember isn't the one I read.

The protagonist gets a job turning off a light switch as soon as the bulb turns on. He gets paid a lot, but it's very boring. He makes wheels for his elbow so he can hit the switch faster. At some point he looks into the situation and finds he works a kill switch for a phone line/booth that can call the dead.

It goes really off the rails from there. I remember a reanimated woman who's not quite a zombie. The main character, this almost-zombie, and another guy are on the run, or otherwise moving around a lot staying in motels. They're some strange love triangle between them, but I don't remember more than that it was kinda graphic.

The protagonist somehow makes an enemy, that might be a demon or spirit? Something supernatural. The book ends with the protagonist and this enemy, body swapping with random people all over the world... so they can hunt each other down, kill each other, then randomly body swap again. It's some kind of stale mate solution to their conflict.

There was an old joke some side-character told that had someone seeing a sexual situation in every Rorschach blot. When the doc points this out and says they have a sex addiction, they reply "Well you're the one with all the dirty pictures!" (I heard this joke years later in a totally different setting and thought they got it from this book, but turns out it's a pretty common one I guess.)

There were some rules about the phone line. I think you could only call a dead person once, and there was a strict time limit. I think he calls his father, or grandfather, some patriarchal figure. The protagonist breaks one or both of the rules, and I think that's what puts them on the run.

Thanks in advance

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    Nicely detailed question!
    – DavidW
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 22:18

1 Answer 1

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The Fandom of the Operator by Robert Rankin looks like a possibility. A synopsis on goodreads.com is:

Gary Cheese is twenty-two years of age and works for British Telecom as an operator. Gary's hobbies include watching TV, walking his dog Princey, going down the pub with his mates, and attempting to re-animate the dead. He hasn't been having too much success with the latter so far. But Gary's heard a rumour. According to this bloke he met down the pub, there exists certain telecommunications technology that can actually let you speak to the dead. Apparently it's been in operation for years. FLATLINE, it's called, a chatline to the dead. They ran all these ads on the TV a few years ago to prepare the public for it. Those ones about having a one-to-one with famous dead people. But it seems something went very wrong: the dead had certain things to say to the living that the powers that be couldn't allow to be heard. Or something. Apparently. Gary's determined to find out the truth. Gary's a bit of a fan boy and Gary really wants to speak to all of his dead heroes. And Gary will have the time of his life when he talks to the dead.

Excerpt with the joke:

‘I did these tests,’ said my father. ‘A psychologist chap came down to our GPO works and wanted volunteers to do these tests. You got paid five pounds if you took part, so I took part.’

‘Your father will do almost anything for science and a fiver,’ said my mother.

‘Yes,’ said my father. ‘So this psychologist showed me this series of inkblots and he said, “Tell me what each one looks like.” He showed me the first one and I said it looked like two people having sex. Then he showed me another and I said it looked like a man having sex with a donkey. And then he showed me another one and I said that it looked like a lady having sex with a tractor. And so on and so forth. And do you know what the psychologist said?”

I shook my head.

‘He said that I was obsessed with sex.’

I shook my head again.

‘And do you know what I said to him?’

I shook my head once again.

‘I said, “Me obsessed with sex? You’re the one who’s got all the filthy pictures!”’

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    Yes, this is it. The protagonist straps roller skates to his elbows to allow him to move faster. Commented Mar 31, 2022 at 15:43
  • Yes! Thanks so much, I've been looking all over for this. Much appreciated! Commented Mar 31, 2022 at 18:15

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