The Wrong Number

9780671694111Do you know what happens when a car that has crashed catches on fire? RL Stine apparently doesn’t.

In the real world, a car that has caught on fire burns. In Hollywood and in Shadyside, however, every car is a Pinto.

We’re back in familiar territory when the book opens with a first person narrative from a murderer. In this case, a murderer-to-be, as he’s planning rather than gloating.

We then go to Deena Martinson and her friend Jade Smith. The two of them have nothing better to do over the weekend than make a few prank calls, primarily to boys at school because that’s totally what teenage girls do (is that something teenage girls do? I was one, but I wasn’t very good at it). Deena has a half-brother who is coming to live with her family so he can repeat his senior year and hopefully graduate this time around.

Chuck is introduced as sullen, which sounds about right for the kind of kid who got in some kind of trouble, got expelled, and is now being sent to live with a father who must not have spent much time with him the rest of his life. I’m assuming the last bit, but considering that Deena is unfamiliar with him and mentions having only met him a couple of times before, there doesn’t seem to have been a lot of family time.

As soon as Deena was ready to write him off, the family narrowly avoided being part of a large accident. Their father sent the two out of the car for safety, and Chuck immediately ran off to rescue a dog in a burning car, which is quite heroic enough without the car then exploding like no car ever.

Chuck then goes on to get into a fight during lunch on his first day in school, and he pulls a knife. I know that the world has changed a whole lot, and weapons policies may not have been a thing yet in 1990, but I’m pretty sure that pulling a knife during a fight has always been the kind of thing that’ll get you kicked out. There’s another interlude from the would-be murderer, clearly meant to make you think it’s Chuck.

This seems like an unfair and unnecessary setup, since Chuck gets involved in the prank calls, then gets involved with Jade. He doesn’t take the legend of Fear Street seriously because why would anyone? We get the legend repeated that there are no birds in the Fear Street Woods. I’m still not sure if this means Fear Island counts or not. So the girls got worked up about it again and he picked up the phone book, found the first address on Fear Street that came up, and called it just in time for it to be answered by a murder victim who was in the middle of being killed.

Naturally, the kids can’t call the cops because no one in Shadyside is willing to let the police do their jobs. Maybe they’re really good at it. We may never know. Instead, they all pile in a car and head over to check out the scene. They are confronted by the actual murderer, and Chuck is dumb enough to pick up the murder weapon, conveniently leaving his fingerprints behind. They’re involved in a car chase because Shadyside has an unusually high number of car chases, and all the menacing phone calls this time were outgoing instead of incoming.

They do finally call the police, and it doesn’t take the police long to arrest Chuck because all of them are idiots. I feel like I’m going to drop a spoiler here, but you’d have to be as dumb as the characters to not figure this out. If you’ve got a problem with a spoiler, skip the rest of this paragraph. The victim’s husband insists that he walked in on them breaking into his house and murdering his wife and he was able to supply their car’s tag number, so it takes our intrepid detectives a depressingly long time to figure out who the real killer is.

Not that this stops the girls from trying to do the job for the police. Jade does have better investigating chops than Meg, I’ll give her that.

So, the carnage?

Shadyside death count: 14 total. The kids did walk in and see the body and the bloody murder scene, however, so the violence in these books is still on the way up.

Additional carnage: One dead cat. It was a pet that probably died of natural causes, but it did make the girls dig around in a dumpster just to find the body, so I’m including it because it died for cheap shock value.

Spoiler-laden point at which this all could have been avoided: I’m going to assume ‘don’t make prank calls’ isn’t really a viable solution here. They didn’t want to call the police because Chuck had already called in a bomb threat to a bowling alley (after which Corey was interviewed because you can’t escape him). They were looking for a boy, so if the girls called the police and admitted to the other prank calls, they might have escaped serious trouble. At least they wouldn’t have ended up going through all of the rest of the plot.