Writer: Edgar Cantero
Publisher: Doubleday Books
A review by Amelia Wellman
A group of kids, once known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club, are all grown up and haven’t seen each other since their fateful, final case in 1977. But the time has come to reunite and uncover the source of their nightmares and return to where it all began in ’77, to a spooky house that was full of things that seemed a little too real to be set up by a man in a mask. The surviving members of the 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. And is that the Necronomicon at the heart of it all? Scooby-Doo and the gang never had to do this!
For those that might not know, I’m crazy for Scooby-Doo! I’ve been obsessed with Mystery Incorporated and their talking dog since childhood. My mother was a Gen Y kid that got to grow up with the classic series and loved it too, so there was never any shortage of enthusiasm to split up and solve a mystery in my life! The passion has even continued to this day as I host a Scooby-Doo podcast! I’m a fan of those meddling kids!
The author of Meddling Kids is Edgar Cantero and this is his third novel. He describes his own material as ranging from short stories to screenplays, and it often features women kissing, stuff exploding, and ill-timed jokes. It’s an apt description, though it’s not what made me pick up this book for review. I was here for Scooby-Doo!
And Scooby-Doo (albeit a seriously disturbed Scooby-Doo) is what I got! Throughout this narrative of a Lovecraftian apocalypse, an ageless sorcerer, and hordes of Eldritch abominations, Cantero drops in references to the cartoon including offhanded mentions of one Mister Magnus, who was stealing his own boats for insurance fraud, and a werewolf sheep-smuggling network (both of which are episodes in Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?).
The case that’s at the heart of the book is the case of ’77, which was their last mystery together before they all packed up and went their separate ways. The four teens and their dog all had to go their separate ways because the case left them with a lot of scars, despite it being a typical set up. They busted a Mister Wickley, who they “snared” in a ridiculous contraption after he dressed like a salamander to look for rumoured gold on an island home of a supposed sorcerer. Unlike a Scooby-Doo episode that would end with a man in a mask and his props being revealed for a conclusive ending, there were more than a few loose ends to Wickley’s case. The slaughtered animals, the books full of dangerous spells in the attic, the fact that “salamander creatures” are still being seen around Sleepy Lake, among other unsavoury happenings all points to something a lot more sinister than a greedy man in a foam rubber mask.
Meddling Kids begins when Andy, the tomboy turned military turned prison breakout, decides it’s time to finally put an end to whatever the hell is happening at Sleeping Lake and put her mind to rest. She collects Kerri from her terrible bartending job in New York and they in turn break Nate out of Arkham Asylum in Massachusetts, which is his latest stop in the asylum circuit crawl he’s done for the last thirteen years of his life. The last two members of the group are Tim the dog, who is with Kerri, and Peter the leader, who is with Nate. But not really because Peter committed suicide a while back. He follows Nate as a delusion and that’s why the Shaggy analogue of the story makes his way from asylum to asylum.
Was I upset to have the Fred analogue dead from the get-go? Yes, because I do love Fred Jones quite a bit, but having him as a delusion in a story that I knew going in had ties to Lovecraft planted a lot of possibilities for him, even in death. Knowing the Necronomicon was going to make an appearance at one point opened up this whole narrative to endless possibilities. Dream dimensions, otherworldly alien horrors inconceivable to man, necromancy, nightmares, madness: truly the horror is endless!
Cantero used the ties to Lovecraft to create a very striking atmosphere that’s not quite scary. Someone less desensitized than myself to the horror genre will no doubt find parts of this story scary, but like the prose that inspired it, Meddling Kids is more about the dreadful atmosphere than the physical fear reaction. Cantero really shines with his descriptors and whether the gang is driving down the deserted, neglected main street of their once beautiful summer getaway or running through an abandoned mine structure because interdimensional demon spawn are chasing them, the atmosphere remains tense to downright disturbing at points.
But Meddling Kids isn’t all doom and gloom, though that is what sits at the heart of it. There are moments of humour and bits of physical comedy ripped right out of cartoon fantasies. The friendship and loyalty of everyone in the gang is also a prominent feature. So in between creeping around Deboën Manor, trying to stop an Elder God from being raised, and fending off hordes of that Elder God’s hellish legion, you also get some black humour and enduring friendship, and since it’s all done well, the tone, pacing, and atmosphere never waver. From beginning to end, this is a book that understands what it is and it never fails in its consistency, which is something that tends to happen in horror more than other genres, so the consistency is noticed and appreciated.
What I personally think is so special about Meddling Kids is that, compared to Scooby-Doo where it was either a man in a mask or an actual supernatural entity, Cantero’s book gives us an equal measure of both; which is to say we get a deep look into the mythos surrounding the abomination that sleeps under Sleepy Lake but we also get very sound, logical explanations concerning mysterious going-ons that have been happening around this hapless small town. I can’t say much without giving away a good chunk of the third act, but like any good Lovecraftian story, the monster waiting for its reawakening is water based and truly otherworldly. Excluding one part of Meddling Kids when Andy and Nate stumble upon something ancient and completely foreign, there isn’t anything that occurs in or around Sleepy Lake that isn’t explained logically. The meshing of supernatural to the completely natural helps Meddling Kids stand apart from the material that inspired it and in the horror genre in general.
Specifically looking at the characters of Meddling Kids, it’s hard to ignore the fact that this is a grown-up Scooby gang, with an analogue for every member of the classic Hanna Barbera cartoon present. Peter is Fred, Nate is Shaggy, Kerri is Velma, Andy is Daphne, and there are a few generations of Scooby, having started with a Weimaraner dog named Sean and now on his grandson Tim. Each gang member of Scooby-Doo has (or at least had in the classic era) a specific archetype that they fit into: leader, coward, smart, danger prone, and… dog, for lack of anything else to classify Scooby as. Meddling Kids took the archetypes and used them as a base for promising detective club turned crumbling young adults.
I personally had a bit of a hang-up that the Velma archetype of Kerri was also the sexy redhead, which is clearly where Daphne fit in with the early eras of Scooby-Doo, but the characters here are more than the characters they’re inspired by, and I just had to tell myself that throughout. And considering how screwed up these three are as adults, you’ll want to tell yourself that too. Time in prisons and asylums, drugs and alcoholism, and the feeling of not belonging anywhere are main components of these characters and you’ll follow along eagerly with their inner (sometimes outer) struggles, both cheering them on as they go, and to satisfy the grim curiosity that goes along with characters like the ones Cantero has created.
Meddling Kids works so well, because much like Scooby-Doo, it’s an ensemble piece that focuses on character actions and reactions. These are characters who are mostly detached from their own reality because of what they subconsciously think happened to them way back in ’77. The detachment and delusions make for some interesting interactions and inner monologues, and watching the pieces of the mystery all click together through their eyes was supremely satisfying.
Buy it! I may have a slight bias when it comes to Scooby-Doo and media inspired or influenced by it, but Meddling Kids isn’t just fantastic because I get a kick out of the similarities to Scooby-Doo and his gang of meddling kids. This is a book full of millennial nihilistic black humour, and horror and action that’s disgusting, nicely orchestrated, and even manages to feel a little nostalgic, even if Scooby-Doo proper has never faced an Eldritch horror from a different dimension!
Meddling Kids is available July 11th, 2017.