Book Review: Meddling Kids: A Novel by Edgar Cantero
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Meddling Kids: A Novel
Hardcover | Paperback | Kindle | Audiobook
By Edgar Cantero
Publisher: Anchor Books | Blumhouse Books
Paperback Release date: May 29, 2018

Every summer, four young friends and their dog would return to their vacation spot in Blyton Hills, a small mining town in Oregon, to reconvene the “Blyton Summer Detective Club,” where they would have fun together while investigating unsolved local crimes. But in the summer of 1977, the teen detectives tackled their biggest and final mystery — the case of the Sleepy Lake Monster, and the consequences of their discovery left them traumatized. In Meddling Kids, author Edgar Cantero channels Scooby-Doo mysteries for a Lovecraftian tale that sees the gang reuniting 13 years later to venture back to Blyton Hills to figure out what really happened that day they unmasked the “monster.”

It’s 1990, and the once-promising teens of the Blyton Summer Detective Club are now troubled young adults who haven’t seen one another in years: Group leader Peter, a famous actor who recently committed suicide; angry young woman Andy, ex-military now wanted in two states; Kerri, was an aspiring biologist, but now tends bar and drinks too much; Nate, Kerri’s younger cousin, is committed to Arkham Asylum in Massachusetts (get it, Arkham?) and hallucinates full conversations with the deceased Peter. Original club member Sean the dog passed away, but his spirit lives on in great-grandson Tim, who resides with Kerri.

Meanwhile, Thomas X. Wickley, the man behind the Sleepy Lake Monster mask, just made parole, but he’s no less traumatized from the events of that day 13 years ago than the kids who captured him. What began as a drifter’s quest for treasure beneath the old Deboën Mansion ended with the unleashing of a supernatural terror. It’s Wickley’s release that prompts Andy to seek out Kerri and Nate (along with Tim) for a return trip to Blyton Hills back to the Zoinx River (more Scooby-Doo references) to further investigate the details of the night they were trapped in the “haunted” mansion, where they witnessed unspeakable horrors.

The book’s title is a direct reference to the Scooby-Doo cartoon, where all the unmasked criminals at the end would gripe that they would have gotten away with their scheme if it weren’t for those “meddling kids.” Well, the members of the Blyton Summer Detective Club were definitely “meddling kids” every summer, and they’re about to be so again.

Admittedly, the book’s cover — a silhouette of the original Club members against a full moon in front of lake with tentacles raising out from it — is what prompted me to read the story (what a great cover!). I also loved that the book begins with a reproduction of the 1977 front-page newspaper article “TEEN SLEUTHS UNMASK SLEEPY LAKE MONSTER” complete with a photo of the kids and local law enforcement posing with their apprehended “creature.” As the story in the book unfolds, we learn a little bit about the purpose of the Club and the potential of these clever children that eventually was wasted because they just couldn’t get passed what happened to them that summer. They never felt “right” again. As the group resumes their investigation, we discover more about Blyton Hills and its secrets, as well as what lurks beneath.

I totally loved the story, with its mix of horror, humor, and adventure. The book oozes nostalgia, with clear homages not only to the aforementioned Scooby-Doo, but also The Goonies, Stephen King, and Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys, and of other pop culture references. The author does make up a few of his own words, and switches up the writing style, periodically having it read more like a script, including camera directions. These are things that I feel are more of an inside joke to the reader, but you do have to get used to it, but at least it doesn’t take that long to do so. Actually, it is really helpful when the gang is in a predicament and the conversation has to go quickly. Meddling Kids is compelling, from the history of the town, the Club’s long-running mystery, and the relationship amongst the reunited Club members, while some of the extremely wild adventures they go on are breathtaking. I was sincerely worried about them!

The paperback edition of Meddling Kids is out this week, and its title page says “A Blyton Summer Detective Club Adventure,” which I hope means we’ll eventually be getting books chronicling the Club’s early years, because I would love to read those. The paperback also includes two extra “bonus content” pages at the end that pertain to one of the ancillary character, who will be featured in Cantero’s next novel, This Body’s Not Big Enough for Both of Us, coming in hardcover on July 31, 2018.

With raucous humor and brilliantly orchestrated mayhem, Meddling Kids subverts teen detective archetypes like the Hardy Boys, the Famous Five, and Scooby-Doo, and delivers an exuberant and wickedly entertaining celebration of horror, love, friendship, and many-tentacled, interdimensional demon spawn.

SUMMER 1977. The Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in Oregon’s Zoinx River Valley) solved their final mystery and unmasked the elusive Sleepy Lake monster””another low-life fortune hunter trying to get his dirty hands on the legendary riches hidden in Deboën Mansion. And he would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids.

1990. The former detectives have grown up and apart, each haunted by disturbing memories of their final night in the old haunted house. There are too many strange, half-remembered encounters and events that cannot be dismissed or explained away by a guy in a mask. And Andy, the once intrepid tomboy now wanted in two states, is tired of running from her demons. She needs answers. To find them she will need Kerri, the one-time kid genius and budding biologist, now drinking her ghosts away in New York with Tim, an excitable Weimaraner descended from the original canine member of the club. They will also have to get Nate, the horror nerd currently residing in an asylum in Arkham, Massachusetts. Luckily Nate has not lost contact with Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star who was once their team leader . . . which is remarkable, considering Peter has been dead for years.

The time has come to get the team back together, face their fears, and find out what actually happened all those years ago at Sleepy Lake. It’s their only chance to end the nightmares and, perhaps, save the world.

A nostalgic and subversive trip rife with sly nods to H. P. Lovecraft and pop culture, Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids is a strikingly original and dazzling reminder of the fun and adventure we can discover at the heart of our favorite stories, no matter how old we get.

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