Book Review – Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

5_star_rating_system_3_and_a_half_stars

We’re always told “don’t judge a book by its cover” but if I took that advice I’d probably never read any of the books I’ve come to love. The greatest and worst thing about being a part of the Bookstagram community is that you constantly get to hear about interesting sounding books but then, unfortunately, you want to buy every interesting book you hear about. And I don’t know about you but my TBR is already unmanageable so I don’t need any unnecessary hauls. As you will no doubt know if you read my weekly rundowns, however, I have no will power whatsoever. So as soon as I saw the cover to my last read on someone’s feed (I can’t remember too, sorry) I knew it was the kind of thing I wanted to read. The more I found out about it the more I had to have it. So it was super lucky that I won an Amazon gift card recently. Not only could I buy a copy without feeling guilty but I could pay extra for the cover I wanted. So far, everything had gone perfectly. It seemed like fate was telling me this was a reading experience I wouldn’t want to miss. So, would it be as good as I hoped?

Meddling Kids a Scooby Doo parody but that would be doing it a disservice. Yes, it owes a lot to the cartoon about young people chasing masked villains but it brings a whole new level to the narrative. Dropping in hints of writers like Lovecraft and giving us a glimpse of the gang after they’ve grown up, Meddling Kids asks the question “what if, one time, it wasn’t a guy in a mask?” It takes us past those hazy summer days of childish investigating and shows us what happens to the gang when they grow out of setting traps in cobwebbed mansions. And, let me tell you now, it’s bleak.

During the Summer of 1977, the Blyton Summer Detectives Club became famous for stopping the Sleepy Lake Monster when they discovered it was just a man trying to find a secret fortune. It seemed as though the mystery was solved but the town of Blyton Hills slowly succumbed to misfortune and the kids grew up haunted by their final case. Their leader Peter, a successful actor, committed suicide; the brains, Kerri, studied biology before becoming an alcoholic bar tender; her shy cousin, Nate, has spent the past few years in and out of various mental asylums; and the hard as nails tomboy, Andy, has run as far as possible and is currently evading the law. The once bright young things have fallen by the wayside all because they cannot forget what happened the night before they caught the Sleepy Lake Monster.

So they do the only thing they can do: return, thirteen years later, to Blyton Hills and confront their demons… literally. Andy rounds up the remaining troops and they quickly begin investigating the mysterious DeboΓ«n Mansion. Here they unearth ancient monsters and black magic that threatens to destroy the town and unleash evil. Although, this time they have come prepared. No longer keen to split up, getting back up from local law enforcement, and staying armed to the teeth, the 20-somethings have definitely learnt from their mistakes. But without a mask to remove, just who is responsible for the terrible goings on?

Before I picked it up, Meddling Kids sounded like it would be a silly parody of that much-loved cartoon but I was surprised by how sophisticated it was. The writing style is, in a word, different but I really enjoyed it. This is Edgar Cantero’s second English-language book and, I have to say, I thought his style was really interesting. Though it won’t be for everyone. The perspective changes from third to first person and constantly breaks off to include thoughts from the groups canine companion, Tim, and stage directions. It gives the narrative a weird flow but I felt that it was handled with just enough tongue-in-cheek. Though I’m sure it won’t appeal to everyone. There is no consistency to the placement of the stage directions or fourth wall breaks but this just adds to the self-aware charm.

Which is why its such a shame that I didn’t like this novel more. There was something about it that just disappointed me. For one thing, I’m not a big fan of the character development. This is a story that is all about the characters but they are all just boring clichΓ©s. The alcoholic, the crazy kid, and the tomboy in love with her best friend? I just found it hard to care. It’s all been done and its all been done better. I’d have preferred that Cantero push these identities even further. To do something as exciting as he did with his style. The only character I really gave a damn about was the dog and he didn’t get nearly enough to do. On the one hand we see Nate constantly haunted by the ghost of his former pal and club member, Peter, but it goes nowhere. In fact, when it becomes problematic to the plot, the ghost just disappears without a trace.

Then there’s the pathetic romance between Kerri and Andy. Now I’m all for LGBTQ+ representation in every medium but this particular story just wasn’t handled well. The whole thing felt super creepy and predatory. Andy has had feelings for her friend since childhood and, despite Kerri making it clear she’s not romantically interested, Andy continues to pursue her. What could have been a bittersweet example of unrequited love evolves into a Snape-ish kind of obsessive “love”. The only positive I can find to this, is Cantero’s quirky use of language to personify various body parts. Thought the overall sentiment left a lot to be desired, the descriptions were a great read.

Because it is a well-written book. It’s just that the content doesn’t live up to Cantero’s skill with language and form. For me personally, I found that he sometimes pushed the pop culture references too far and it started to feel like fan service. There were moments that seemed to only exist because of the parody rather than because it was natural. But, at the same time, there were plenty of fun moments and the novel, thankfully, never takes itself too seriously. It tires to be something more even if its expectations of itself are a bit too high. I read this book coming out of a massive reading slump and I read it in just over a week. A fact that must show it wasn’t a terrible novel.

But, despite the fact that I read it quickly and was entertained, I could never shake the feeling that it was missing something. It commits the worst sin possible for novel about a huge mystery: the ending just wasn’t shocking enough. Anyone could have spotted the final reveal a mile off and the final set piece just lacked the required drama. It needed to be season 5 Buffy but was just Buffy for the majority of season 7. It felt like the end of one of Stephen King’s recent novels; like Cantero just lost his grip on the narrative and had to end it somehow. There was plenty of room for this to be a truly scary and funny play on a very familiar set-up but it just ended up being a rather pedestrian parody with some interesting aspects. You won’t regret reading this at all but you may end up underwhelmed… which in the grand scheme of things isn’t that bad.

Although, I’d still probably recommend this to anyone. If nothing else, it is a fabulous nostalgia trip back to your childhood and Saturday morning cartoons. It’s a fun novel that allows you to switch off and just get on with the job at hand. It’s kind of like Enid Blyton and HP Lovecraft collaborated after watching a whole load of Scooby Doo episodes.

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