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Retro Reads: CHAIN LETTER by Christopher Pike [Review]

Chain Letter by Christopher Pike

Lately I’ve been rereading the books I liked when I was younger, and, back in the day, Chain Letter by Christopher Pike was definitely among my favorites. Similar to I Know What You Did Last Summer, the story is about a group of kids who run over a guy with their car on the way home from a concert (the Beach Boys, if you’re curious). Because they’ve been drinking and messing around, they don’t want the police involved, so they bury the body and try to forget it ever happened. The following year, one of the girls in the car, Fran, gets an anonymous chain letter from someone calling himself/herself the Caretaker, claiming to know what happened that night. If they don’t do what the Caretaker wants, the chain will be broken, and they will have to pay.

Oh man, Chain Letter scared the crap out of me when I was a kid, but I can’t remember exactly what it was about the book that I found so freaky. Maybe it was Alison’s family living in a huge, empty housing development? Or the Caretaker stalking and threatening the kids? Of course, the part where they run over the guy in the road was just chilling. Upon rereading, what bothered me most now is how little remorse these kids felt for what they had done and how easily they had moved on with their lives. I guess that’s the Caretaker’s motivation for the chain letter, but the kids still got off a little too easily for my liking.

A few random observations:

I love how Pike takes something ordinary like a chain letter (and common back in ’86) and makes it so sinister.

Unlike Die Softly, this book doesn’t seem that dated to me. Change the snail mail to email and the Nastassja Kinski references to Heidi Klum and it would hold up well.

It’s mentioned repeatedly that Neil has diabetes, and each time all I could think was, omg, just like Stacey in The Babysitter’s Club books! Between them and Shelby in Steele Magnolias, there seems to be a lot of diabetes in 80s pop culture.

Compared to the trashy goodness of Pike’s other books, Chain Letter has a more somber tone (no coke-snorting, murdering cheerleaders here). The ending is truly sad and touching. Overall, I think it’s one of his better books—the characters are well developed and the plot keeps you guessing—even if it lacks the WTF? moments of his other works. I also just discovered on Amazon [2] that there is a sequel, Chain Letter 2: The Ancient Evil. How did I not know this? I’m going to have to add it to my reading list.

Quotes from Chain Letter:

“We killed him,” Fran wept. “We should have gone to the police.”

He felt loaded and hadn’t even had a drink. Then again, there had been enough dope smoke in the air to waste the security guards. The Beach Boys drew all kinds.

My Dear Friend,
You do not know me, but I know you. Since you first breathed in this world, I have watched you. The hopes you have wished, the worries you have feared, the sins you have committed—I know them all. I am The Observer, The Recorder. I am also The Punisher. The time has come for your punishment. Listen closely, the hourglass runs low.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars | Publisher: Avon Books | Pages: 185 | Source: Library | Buy on Amazon [3]