And the horror continues with the fifth book in the late, great but recently revised Fear Street series!
It began as a prank…and ended in murder!
Deena Martinson and Jade Smith are a couple of bored Shadyside teenagers so they decide to entertain themselves with prank phone calling, but of course this is Fear Street which means acting like bored teenagers can only lead to death!
Check out that old rotary phone. My grandma had an olive green one in her matching 70s olive green kitchen, and we had an arrangement where when she had to make calls, I got to do the dialing. Anyway, s’okay cover. The Wrong Number is the fifth book in the series and was originally published in 1990. I couldn’t find the cover artist in my 2004 reprint of the 1990 book, but I found some better alternatives for you:
Like Lights Out, The Wrong Number alternates between the first person diabolical schemings of the villain and third person narrative.
Deena (yes, this is Deena of The Secret Bedroom) and her best friend Jade, a redhead of course, are bored and hanging out one evening. Deena is nervous because her half-brother Chuck, a troublemaker, is moving in with them. Because dangerous boys are a hot commodity in Shadyside, Jade is already totally hot for Chuck.
Anyway, Deena shows off her new phone to Jade, and this conversation, which I have copied in its entirety, ensues:
“What’s this?” she said.
“My new phone,” said Deena. “When my dad got promoted to vice-president of the phone company they gave us the latest instruments.”
“It’s pretty rad,” said Jade, picking it up. “It looks like the control panel for a jet plane or something. What are all these buttons for?”
“They’re for programming in phone numbers,” said Deena. “You push one button and the phone automatically dials a number. That button’s for putting the caller on hold. And this switch” — she pointed to a switch on the handset — “turns it into a speaker phone, so everyone in the room can hear the conversation.”
I know, right?! Apparently, the Shadyside teens weren’t as hip as this guy:
The girls make some prank calls that include the cutest, most popular boy in school, and Deena is all sexy and breathy. Ugh, get these girls a Dream Phone, stat.
Moving on, Deena and her father pick up Chuck from the airport. Chuck is super moody, but then he saves a puppy from a burning fire. No, I’m not kidding. Deena thinks he might be “crazy,” but really Chuck is just the kind of teenager that listens to R.E.M.
(Technically, not released till 1992.)
One night, Chuck catches Deena and Jade making prank calls. He decides to up the ante by calling in a bomb threat to the bowling alley. Deena’s like, whoa, hold the phone (pun totally intended), but Jade threatens to reveal Deena as the sexy, breathy prank caller.
Intrigued by all the Fear Street talk, Chuck decides to call a number on Fear Street. Deena and Jade try to talk him out of it, and we learn that there are “no birds in the Fear Street Woods.” Scientists have tried to figure it out to no avail. Chuck calls and interrupts a murder.
A woman screams into the phone “you’re my only hope!” Fun fact: Stine has written books in the Star Wars verse, so I assume this is deliberate.
Instead of calling the police, they decide to go to the house because Chuck doesn’t want to get in trouble for calling in a bomb threat. They show up at the house (an old Victorian mansion, of course) and find the body of a woman who has been stabbed to death. Chuck decides to pick up the murder weapon because Law & Order had not yet spanned a bajillion spin-offs and seasons.
Just then, the murderer chases them back to their house and the police show up to arrest Chuck. Turns out the tricky murderer framed Chuck, because Chuck was dumb enough to handle the murder weapon. Deena and Jade confess to everything, and this exchange happens:
“Do you mean to say this whole thing began with a prank phone call?” Mr. Martinson said at last.
“And it ended in murder,” Jade said sadly, her voice a whisper.
Beautiful. Well done tagline writer/cover artist/whoever is in charge of that kind of thing. But of course this is YA horror, which means none of the adults take them seriously. The girls will just have to figure it out themselves.
Deena and Jade spend the rest of the book trying to clear Chuck’s name. There are wigs and other super-sleuth activities. They find out that the murderer, Mr. Faberson, owns a restaurant, is having an affair with his secretary, and has booked a one-way flight to Rio. Also, there’s a dead cat because Stine hates cats.
They still need more evidence, though, so they decide to go back to the house on Fear Street. There they find a letter from the late Mrs. Faberson who is fed up with Mr. Faberson using up her money and plans to leave him. But, guess what? Mr. Faberson shows up!
Then there’s chasing, Deena getting stuck in her poncho (Mr. Faberson traps her in her own poncho…I’m not sure either), and a chainsaw. Then the police show up and reveal they knew all along! They just needed Mr. Faberson to think he wasn’t a suspect until they found hard evidence. Apparently, Chuck went along with this.
I am little bummed out by this ending because Deena and Jade were showing agency. The incompetent adults is a common trope of horror fiction so I am not too keen on this break from tradition, especially when the agency of horror fiction female characters is at stake.
Tangent: Hey, remember these?
I had one, but some girl in middle school broke it during a sleepover. Still bitter.
Moral of the Story
Prank calling on rotary phones is better than receiving dick pics via smart phones.
Guy with a chainsaw, old Victorian house, Jekyll/Hyde half-brother, nobody believes the teenagers.
Totally rad speed dial and speaker phone, R.E.M, portable tape player, Dire Straits, cars with bucket seats, hair deliberately styled in a “frizz.”
3 creepy trolls out of 5. The Wrong Number felt like one of Stine’s better written Fear Streets, but I mean, I’m not really looking for quality writing when it comes to Fear Street. More ghosts, more demons, more animated rotting corpses, please!