The First Phone Call from Heaven is meant to fill readers with hope that we will see our loved ones again. Yet, because so much of the novel is spent finding the real-life cause of the phenomenon, the vibe is not so much hope as it is dread and disdain. Dread because one feels the very real desire for the phone calls to be real but the knowledge that it is a hoax and disdain for someone who would prey on the lonely and grief-stricken. From the very beginning, there is little doubt that the phone calls are fake; as a result, the damage done to the town and to the people receiving the phone calls is heart-wrenching.
Sully is the best part of The First Phone Call from Heaven. His struggle to recover from the tragedy that upended his life is poignant and emotionally raw, and his son’s unwavering hope about receiving a phone call from his mother is a punch in the gut. Sully is the type of character readers will want to comfort and help, even when he is at his prickliest. His logic and natural doubt provide a much-needed buffer in the “is it a miracle or is it a hoax” debate that rages throughout the town and among the characters.
Perhaps Mr. Albom’s novels are better left to people with a deep and unwavering faith. One can see how hopeful The First Phone Call from Heaven is for those who truly believe in a heaven. For those with doubts or no belief whatsoever, the novel is more a prettily-written crime novel, one where the motive for the crime makes very little sense. The connections between the various characters are a bit too convenient, although one should not expect otherwise for this is not a novel meant to trick or surprise. It is meant to inspire and promote belief. For the right audience, it probably does just that. For the wrong audience, it is nothing more than an interesting little story about the duplicity of humans and the ease with which one can prey on the emotionally vulnerable.