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The phone was smarter than he was.

Loose Tongues - Chris Simms

I remember, years ago, I caught something on "Talk Radio" that reeled me in and had me listening, even though I normally avoid talk radio (I can't remember why I was tuned to the station at all). Some fella who had a radio program was dedicating air-time to what was, basically, a confession. He was, it seemed to me, still riled up over something that had erupted in his personal life, and because he had his own radio talk-show, he could come on and, well, expiate his sin.

 

He told how he had been at an ATM, doing his banking business, and a young woman behind him who was on her cellphone suddenly shrieked out an expletive about as loudly as a person can. Just yelled to her friend, over the phone - out of the blue, from the point of view of the man in front of her, our radio personality. He blazed into anger...and turned around and slapped her in the face. She had sent his nerves jangling up through his spine that he lost control and slapped her. And there he was, on his own radio show, telling the story - regretting, yes, but also trying to explain how politeness and decorum seems to be dissolving with the arrival of cellphones. This was fairly soon after cellphones had arrived and taken over.

 

I remember when cellphones were just starting out, but quickly becoming all the rage, and I was already sick of them. I was. I was intuitively unhappy about all the one-sided chat around me - this was a new thing - and some people were loud. But my first annoyance was all the advertising, that was trying to make me buy one of the things. And I remember walking in a mall, and a guy planted outside a store was suddenly in my face with a lot of fake, "I'm selling you something so I'm nice and I'm energetic" friendliness, and I interrupted him and said "Augh - enough with the cellphones.". And he looked very unfriendly and said something like "Enough with the cellphones?!". This means he wasn't really rude to me - he just seemed shocked that I was anti-cellphone. I was a troublemaker, speaking heresy...a talking pebble trying to slow down the steamroller of the future.

 

And he wins. We got steamrolled. "Buy a cellphone and get hooked on it - Make a billionaire richer!". Last word goes to cellphones, now smart-phones...but I've never owned one. I can only see myself owning one of the damn things if I ever need it to help find a new job. And these are uncertain times - but for now, I'm employed.

 

This crime novel - Loose Tongues - involves police detectives, especially DI Sean Blake, tracking a psychopath they don't want to think of too early on as a serial killer. However, the reader quickly learns - via frightening opening sequences - that this is the dark and timely tale of a man who already hated all the noise from our cellphone world, but who then, because of one incident, wrecked his life by slapping a cellphone user. Consider him filmed and fired.

 

There are tricks and traps ahead, for the police and the reader. What we know leads to things we think we know - so, let it be said that the novel is a little sneakier than what I've laid out so far suggests. I do feel like I've read a book that can stand in for the just-releasing film The Invisible Man, in which a woman is stalked by her ex-boyfriend, who cannot be seen. The male obsessive, snapping, and embracing violence that soothes the anger - temporarily...and for the longest while, no one can see what is really going on. In the Simms novel, Sean Blake is dragged through a nightmarish subplot that only adds to the tension - but the main story, involving a misogynist who decides he can't tolerate loud women on cellphones, is chilling. A few weeks ago, I was on the bus and going home from work, and one woman glared hate at another woman who was shouting her personal financial details into her phone (the cellphone shouter is a regular on that bus, at that time every workday, and I just ignore her as best I can, because this is now our world - and on a short trip home, I am not freaking out at anyone, or slapping them, because I can't handle it).

 

I don't know how much violence has erupted in our world, due to someone wanting someone else to be quiet while on their phone - but this book seems like a believable version of who would take it to murder, and why. It's got some stuff to think about, and it's very suspenseful, if, y'know, kind of formulaic at times.

 

Anyway, it did make me think back to maybe the first person in front of me on a sidewalk - again, cellphones a fairly new phenom - talking loudly into his phone, but also so distracted that he was weaving around in front of me and making himself difficult to avoid or pass. I finally passed him, barely, and I was shaking my head. He chuckled and said to his buddy "This guy is all upset at me because I'm on my cellphone.".

 

These days, when seven out of ten people walk past me on their phones and with their heads down, or someone in front of me jars to a halt and starts texting while I try not to bump into them and win myself a dirty look...it's just...normal. I'm in the city, having a day in the life. No slapping, okay? And no killing!