Perfect for fans of Scooby-Doo-style camp.
Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids takes an interesting approach to its title subjects, moving a Scooby Doo-esque gang of young mystery-solvers from the prime of their youth to their disaffected early years of adulthood. With their identities wrapped up in the so-called Blyton Summer Detective Club, the gang struggles to move past their childhood exploits and forge new identities for themselves. Despite being down one in their ranks (the “Fred”-styled character having ended up a Hollywood casualty), the gang reconvenes to resolve the lingering mystery of their last great case, involving a supposedly haunted house (natch) and a creature who may or may not have been just a man in a costume, one which has haunted each in unique ways.
Nate, the youngest of the original team, found himself in an insane asylum in (of course, seeing as Meddling Kids is riddled with such references) Arkham, Massachusetts. Andy, a tomboy harboring a secret crush on one of her fellow detectives, has found herself facing loads of legal trouble as her life careens off the rails. Meanwhile, Kerri, the brains of the original group and the source of Andy’s unrequited love, spends her days drinking with her Weimaraner, Tim, a descendant of the gang’s original canine sidekick, to keep the nightmares at bay.
Unlike their adolescent selves who managed to solve all of their town’s problems in a neat and tidy manner, each as an adult has been unable to manage their own personal struggles. The epitome of this failure to cope is Peter, who, having died some years prior, appears to Nate as a wisecracking ghost offering running commentary on the increasingly bizarre events transpiring. It’s an interesting look at how life could conceivably pan out for kid detectives as the world reveals itself to be more than just a series of bad guys in masks. The existential crisis of the former child star comes to the fore as they find themselves faced with post-adolescent ennui and a lack of purpose in an increasingly complex world.
Far from maudlin, however, Cantero’s prose keeps the story sharp, witty and loaded with pop cultural references, many of which allude to Scooby Doo, The Hardy Boys and H.P. Lovecraft. Perhaps a bit on the nose, but nonetheless amusing, the action takes place in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon on Sleepy Lake. In keeping with the playful spirit of the novel’s source material/inspiration, Cantero allows humor to weave its way in and out of the sometimes bleak series of events. With Nate being the only member of the group who can actually see and hear Peter, his “talking to himself” is often played for laughs, while Peter’s asides serve as an effective funnyman to Nate’s decidedly straight-man role.
The intensity and insanity gets ramped up as Cantero reaches his epochal conclusion full of blind subterranean nightmares and a truly Lovecraftian leviathan dwelling deep within the earth itself. In all, Meddling Kids offers a fine form of escapism, using teenage archetypes all grown up in a manner not all too dissimilar to Joe Meno’s The Boy Detective Fails. At the heart of this particular mystery, however, is something far more sinister and supernatural, leading to a showdown between the Blyton Summer Detective Club and an unimaginable monster that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. Perfect for fans of Scooby-Doo-style camp, Meddling Kids is a winning summer read.