And I wouldn’t have gotten insanely envious, if it wasn’t for that Edgar Cantero!
My interest in Meddling Kids was hooked from first learning that this Spaniard’s second English-language novel hearkens back to my favorite animated series from the late 70’s (if you instantly catch references like “Zoinx River,” then this is the book for you and me both). Thirteen years after nabbing a greedy schemer masquerading as the Sleepy Lake Monster, the former-teen members of the Blyton Summer Detective Club remain haunted by that last case. Deciding to return to the scene of the foiled crime, the sleuths gradually uncover an occult conspiracy of Lovecraftian magnitude.
Now why couldn’t I have conceived such an imaginative mash-up, and given a clever supernatural turn-of-the-screw to the typical hoax-exposing endings of the cartoon episodes? But what has really salted my wounded ego is the realization that Cantero didn’t just come up with an incredible high concept; he is an ultra-talented writer to boot. His prose is infused with wit–as evident in the early scene when a chauvinist barfly unwisely sticks his middle and ring fingers in the face of badass heroine Andy. She promptly yanks them apart, “virtually disabling those extremities for any purpose other than effusively greeting Vulcans.” Cantero displays a penchant for linguistic inventiveness; for instance, a monstrous colossus on the loose is described as having “howlretched, for lack of a real word.” The writer also has plenty of fun calling attention to conventions (“A lazy rain began to wash out the defiled streets, all casual and gleeful like a late authority figure at the end of a teen detective story”) and pulling the mask of mimesis off his own narrative (“Nate looked at her for the first time in this chapter”). All of this playfulness and self-consciousness, though, is properly seasoned into the story; Cantero doesn’t postmodernize at the price of readability. Rather than reducing to a wearying parody, Meddling Kids works more like a pop-cultural love letter.
Thankfully, the novel’s cast aren’t just caricatured analogues of Fred, Velma, and company. As characters, they prove as endearing as they are well-rounded. Cantero shows a special flair in his depiction of Tim, whether humorously humanizing the Weimaraner (“all tensed up in ‘scandalized Maggie Smith’ pose”) or recounting his canine actions (“Tim wandered in, sniffed the carpet, the foot of the bed, the magic in the air, and chose to lie down”).
Driven by mystery, the plot offers several stunning twists (that continue all the way through the book’s final paragraphs). Classic horror locales such as abandoned mines and a decrepit mansion furnish the Gothic settings. The action sequences are at once madcap and graphic; there’s enough carnage here to make the Evil Dead films seem positively cleanly by comparison.
I cannot remember the last book I enjoyed reading as much as this one. Upon finishing it, I immediately flipped back to the first page, like a connoisseur reaching for a second helping of a delicious dish. No mere Shaggy/dog tale, Meddling Kids rates 5/5 Scooby Snacks.