Book: “Meddling Kids” by Edgar Cantero
Publishing Info: Doubleday Books, July 2017
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description: For fans of John Dies at the End and Welcome to Night Vale comes a tour de force of horror, humor, and H.P. Lovecraft. The surviving members of a forgotten teenage detective club (and their dog) must reunite as broken adults to finally solve the terrifying case that ruined them all and sent the wrong man to prison. Scooby Doo and the gang never had to do this!
1990. The teen detectives once known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon) are all grown up and haven’t seen each other since their fateful, final case in 1977. Andy, the tomboy, is twenty-five and on the run, wanted in at least two states. Kerri, one-time kid genius and budding biologist, is bartending in New York, working on a serious drinking problem. At least she’s got Tim, an excitable Weimaraner descended from the original canine member of the team. Nate, the horror nerd, has spent the last thirteen years in and out of mental health institutions, and currently resides in an asylum in Arhkam, Massachusetts. The only friend he still sees is Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star. The problem is, Peter’s been dead for years.
The time has come to uncover the source of their nightmares and return to where it all began in 1977. This time, it better not be a man in a mask. The real monsters are waiting.
With raucous humor and brilliantly orchestrated mayhem, Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids taps into our shared nostalgia for the books and cartoons we grew up with, and delivers an exuberant, eclectic, and highly entertaining celebration of horror, life, friendship, and many-tentacled, interdimensional demon spawn.
Review: Though I was definitely more of a “Pup Named Scooby-Doo” viewer as a child, “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” was definitely a show that I was pretty familiar with thanks to visits to Grandma’s house and the local video store. I can’t say that I have a huge nostalgia for it, but it’s enough of a cultural icon that I am familiar with it and all the references, tropes, and influences that come with it. When my friend David sent me this book title on Facebook, I was immediately intrigued. Given that I love send ups of classic shows like “The Venture Bros”, “Sealab 2021”, and “Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law”, I was stoked to see that FINALLY someone decided to take on “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You” and add in some Lovecraftian horror elements to boot.
To start, I really enjoyed how Cantero took the characters that we are oh so familiar with and gave them some serious issues, issues that would make perfect sense for a bunch of kids who chased after criminals. Meet the Blyton Summer Detective Club: Kerri (Velma) was an incredibly smart girl, a genius, but has ended up an alcoholic tending bar. Andy (I think she’s supposed to be a inverted Daphne? She doesn’t really fit) was the tomboy of the group, who went on to get military training but is now on the run from the law. Nate (Shaggy) was the geeky and carefree one, but has voluntarily committed himself to Arkham Asylum (of Lovecraftian fame, not “Batman”)… Mainly because he keeps seeing Peter (Fred), who died of a drug overdose a few years prior. Throw in Tim (Scooby-Doo), the canine descendant of their original group, and there you have it. I liked how Cantero explored the damages that their friendship and group wrought upon them. Seeing all of these broken people try to come back together to fight the one case they didn’t quite solve was bittersweet and heavy, and I really appreciated that Cantero explored how a scenario like this may go. Kerri and Andy have a deep bond, stemming from childhood when Andy was almost in love with Kerri, and seeing them reconnect is very sweet, even if it feels like doom could come for them at any time. Nate’s struggle with his mental illness is also very revealing, though at times you are kind of wondering if maybe Peter’s ghost really is with him. After all, if monsters are real, why not this? They all need each other as much as they wish they didn’t, and that was both lovely and tragic because at the heart of it they are all survivors of a terrible trauma, and they need to confront it before they can move on with their lives. Cantero does a great job of reminding us that they were kids when this terrible stuff happened to them, and that sometimes you can’t just walk away and that’s the end of the story. Sometimes it’s not just a kook in a mask.
I also really liked that Cantero has taken the ol’ chesnut that is Lovecraft and has applied it to this kind of story. Given that the original “Scooby-Doo” always ended with the villain being a plain old person in a mask, for them to be facing actual monsters and magic is SUPER fun, and at times genuinely creepy. From lake monsters that decompose at an alarming rate to mysterious books and words in an attic, Cantero has really taken the inter-dimensional horror theme and given it a fun little spin here. It’s meta as well as creepy and weird, and it’s just different enough that I wasn’t feeling like he was trying too hard to make two different themes fit together. He also did a good job of retaining the plausible explanation theme, as while a guy in a mask isn’t a solution, there are other natural disasters that pose just as much risk to these people as the supernatural creatures. That isn’t to say that this book is just doom and gloom and a Nolan-like take on “Scooby-Doo”. As a matter of fact, this is not only kind of sad, at times it’s a VERY funny book. The snide and sarcastic banter between the characters had me in stitches, as well as the occasional insight into Tim’s doggie mind (his love for a toy penguin, for example, is delightfully whimsical when it’s from his POV).
That isn’t to say that it was a perfect book. I will admit that I had a hard time with some of the stylistic choices, as it could jump from a novel narrative to a playwright’s dialog in the same scene, even the same breath. I found it to be a bit distracting, but it was never so jarring that I had to stop. I also do kind of question some of the influences that Cantero took from, specifically that sometimes it felt like he was kind of appropriating some indigenous legends, even if he put his own spin on them in the end. It kind of treaded the line, and while I don’t think that he ever really crossed it, I’m no expert. I would probably have to do more research and get other people’s opinions on the matter.
Overall, I really liked “Meddling Kids” and think that it’s both super fun and super creative. I also liked how it took the familiar tropes of a beloved series and spun them on their head.
Rating 8: Both a nostalgic send up and solid adventure/horror story, “Meddling Kids” brings some real world insight and consequences to a group of former teen detectives with heart and scares.
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