By R. L. Stine.
Cassie has three best friends, and they’re all boys: there’s practical joker, Winks; Eddie, a frequent victim of practical jokes; and bulky jock, Scott, on whom she has a not-so-secret crush. Bored, one night, the four of them decide to take an illicit joyride to practise for their upcoming driving tests. Driven to distraction by Winks’s relentless japes, Eddie accidentally runs a man over. Certain that the guy – whose wallet reveals to be one Brandt Tinkers – is 100% dead, and that there were no witnesses, the friends commit a hit and run.
In the days that follow, they are plagued by guilt – especially Eddie, who is desperate to confess. The others convince him to keep it together: there’s nothing about their crime in the local paper; they’re almost in the clear. But the absence of any news story is disconcerting in itself – where is the body? They call Eddie’s cousin, Jerry, who works at the city morgue, and are almost relieved when he confirms a Brandt Tinkers was brought in. That is, until Jerry reveals that the corpse has since vanished without trace! Cassie and her friends are already freaked out, but then they start receiving creepy phone calls and notes – supposedly from their victim – and pretty soon, guilt turns to terror. When Winks is himself knocked down (by an unknown driver, who absconds) Cassie realises they’re all in danger, and sets about solving the mystery before she finds herself next on the hit (and run) list.
Polaroids of a corpse in a Volvo aside, much of Hit and Run is believable. The four teens act how you would imagine sixteen year old accidental killers to act. And just as guilt, remorse and the overwhelming need to confess kick in, they’re distracted from ‘doing the right thing’ by a new problem: their victim’s corpse vacating his mortuary slab and launching a campaign of vengeance against them. We know, of course, that the mischief-maker will ultimately be revealed to be an alive human being (and an easily guessable one, at that) but this doesn’t diminish the fun of getting there. Whilst for the sake of their souls, we wish the kids spent a little longer feeling bad about what they’ve done, their callous self-obsession means the plot moves along at a lively pace and there’s rarely a dull chapter. Okay, so the characters could do with a bit more depth, their actions and consequences lack complexity, and an extra scare or two in the second half wouldn’t go amiss… Hit and Run is nevertheless a fun read, and a textbook example of the PH genre.
Whilst it offers up some solid scares, Hit and Run makes a wrong turn when it diminishes the angst its protagonists endure in the aftermath of their crime. There’s a rich cache of dread and terror in those fears: that they might be caught; that their parents and classmates will vilify them; that their futures are at stake; that they might go to jail… All of this is glossed over in a few paragraphs, in order to usher in the supposed ‘horror’ element of the story – that a definitely dead corpse is taking selfies in their cars and leaving them vaguely menacing messages. Surely there are few things scarier than the prospect of being banged up in the American penal system? The potential for a more complex, psychological instalment in the franchise is abandoned, due to R. L. Stine’s fervent allegiance to PH tropes.