By R. L. Stine.
We meet The Hitchhiker, James, as he’s heading north out of Key West, escaping from… we’re not sure what exactly… but it involves the remembrance of a crying girl begging him not to hurt her, which haunts him as he walks along the highway, trying to thumb a ride. He is an angry, parentless young man with a fierce temper. When an old man stops to give him a lift, the focus switches to Christina and Terri, best friends travelling through Florida on Spring Break. Terri is the more cautious and sensible of the two girls, admonishing Christina for speeding and then driving away from a truck accident that she causes. It is Christina’s carefree attitude that prompts her to stop for the handsome hitchhiker. But Terri is wary, and remains aloof towards James, who quickly shows signs that he may indeed pose a serious threat.
It starts with a display of his aggressive temper in a diner. Then a violent encounter with his cousin at whose house they spend a night. Mysteriously, James insists on turning the radio off when a news item comes on about an old man who has been attacked by a hitchhiker. Soon the girls are caught up in the danger, when a car driven by a strange man runs them off the road, and then Terri disappears from the motel they are staying at. Christina is left alone with James, and with their pursuer not far behind. The question of which of them is in the greatest danger comes to a head in the exciting, surprising finale.
The Hitchhiker is a thrilling page-turner with an action-packed final set piece. R. L. Stine piles twists upon mysteries and it makes for one of his best entries in the franchise.
James’s threatening persona is dispensed with a little too quickly, resulting in a dearth of scariness in the middle section. But the last 30 pages or so go a long way towards making up for this, and the twisting, terrifying finale earns The Hitchhiker a decent fear factor rating of…