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Dead Lines: A Novel of Life After Death    by Greg Bear order for
Dead Lines
by Greg Bear
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2004 (2004)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

In Dead Lines, Greg Bear takes a different path from his previous novels, confronting readers with technology and terror from the point of view of protagonist Peter Russell. Peter is unemployed, still mourning the murder of his ten-year old daughter Danielle, divorced from Helen who has taken second daughter Lindsey, and grieving over the death of his best friend Phil. Peter turned to drinking but has been sober for the past eighteen months. He earns some money running errands for the eccentric Joseph Adrian Benoleil and his wife Michelle. The Salaambo estate consists of an old, one-time elegant, non-habitable mansion 'Jesus Wept', and 'Flaubert House' in which the Benoleils dwell. The two buildings are connected by an underground tunnel with a questionable past.

Peter is offered a job with Trans, a company promoting new cell-phone technology boasting a vast bandwidth. Accepting the position as public relations rep to develop promos to 'sell the cell', Peter is allotted a number of free phones for distribution. The company's rep Stanley Weinsten, and Arpad Kreisler, engineer of the 'transponder' (the power source of the Trans phones) are housed in the abandoned San Andreas prison facilities. After accepting the job, Peter begins to see apparitions, 'eel shadows', wisps of images, and misty figures. After spreading Phil's ashes over the sea near his friend's residence, Peter sees three phantom-like girls in the company of an elderly man, a man who resembles a weather-worn statue. From a bedroom in Phil's house, Peter hears weeping, discovers a woman's figure standing by the bed, and recognizes Phil's ex-wife Lydia. Except ... Lydia had come and gone earlier that day to give Peter access to Phil's house.

Returning to his own home, Peter hears a child's cries. Entering a bedroom, he sees daughter Lindsey, dropped off earlier by Helen for an overnight stay. Within minutes the phone rings - Helen advising him that she was unable to drop Lindsey off. Then who did he just talk with and hug? Other characters, such as Sandaji and Edward, spiritualist and psychic, add dimension and suspicion. While on an errand for Joseph to see Sandaji, Peter spots a young boy from another time period. He realizes the ghost sightings began upon acquisition of the Trans cell phones, and destroys those still in his possession. One late night, Peter visits the Benoleil estate using alarm code access to the property. He experiences haunting, eerie 'wraiths', visualizations of the living, and 'specters', appearances of the dead. Climbing the stairs in Joseph and Michelle's home, Peter senses something behind him, 'Shoo', he says. Then thinks 'You're my death ... grab me and shake me ... shake and chew and shake some more until I'm nothing but an empty sack of skin.'

Bear builds suspense from chapter to chapter with a purposeful leisurely-paced style. Descriptions are poetic as in 'Jasmine and honeysuckle vied with ... old rosebushes to scent the air, and the splashes of red and yellow and pink in the late-morning sun'. Bear describes scenes with finesse, and delicacy, yet with wonder, and his haunting prose encourages the reader to keep searching for answers. The last lines on the last page offer 'We were all there in that city that draws its paycheck from the manufacture of ghosts ... You'll join us soon enough. You're next.' I recommend Dead Lines as a gripping, out-of-the-ordinary story.

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