The Wrong Number, an R.L. Stine novel that was first published way back in 1990, is a real artifact.
The plot itself is pretty simple and kind of ripped off from an old Joan Crawford called I Saw What You Did. Basically, two teenage girls — Dina and Jade — are totally bored so they decided to pass the time by prank calling people. They call up Jade’s sister. They call up Rob, the boy whom Dina totally has a crush on. It’s all pretty basic and, to be honest, kind of stupid. I mean, if you’re going to prank call someone, don’t pretend like you’re calling on behalf of the mall or something. Instead, you call them up and say something like, “You need to come home right away. Everyone you love is dead.”
While Dina and Jade are making prank calls, some unidentified man is having a stream of consciousness discussion with himself, all about how his plan has nearly come to fruition and he just has to make sure that all the loose ends are tied up and how he’ll kill anyone who gets in his way. Though the identity of this man is not immediately confirmed, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that that he’s eventually going to get an unwanted phone call from Dina and Jade.
Actually, it’s all Chuck’s fault. Chuck is Dina’s half-brother and he’s got a history of fights and petty crimes. He seems like kind of a punk but this being an R.L. Stine book, he’s actually just a misunderstood rebel who plays be his own rules. It turns out that Chuck is an expert on prank calls. Long story short, Dina and Jade eventually call up a man who is in the process of murdering his wife. Somehow, this leads to them deciding that they need to investigate the murder themselves. Myself, I’d probably just try to get on with my life but, on Fear Street, everyone’s curious.
The Wrong Number is pretty much typical Fear Street. Solve the crime, get a boyfriend, try not to die. It’s the type of book where Chuck gets into a knife fight after only being in town slightly less than day yet, instead of worrying that Chuck might have issues, it just makes him more attractive to Jade. (Actually, speaking from my own long and sordid history of developing crushes on bad boys, that might be the most realistic part of the story.)
The most interesting thing about The Wrong Number is that it’s totally a product of its time. This a book that literally could not take place today. This plot is dependent upon everyone having a landline (and only a landline) and no one having caller ID or the ability to block annoying numbers. It’s an artifact of a past time. Thirty years ago, the world was a much different place.