***This book was reviewed for Random House/Doubleday via Edelweiss
Cantero’s Meddling Kids was such a fun book! It’s a cheeky parody drawing on reminiscences of childhood classics like Scooby-Doo and The Three Investigators, with helpings of Lovecraft, King, and others added to taste. I could see echoes of 80s action shows peeking through as well. Many references are glaringly obvious. Others are more cleverly hidden, and I loved figuring them out.
It’s the late 70s. A group of friends banded together in the small township of Blyton Hills spend their vacation time solving petty crimes. There’s Peter, leader of the group. Nate the creative. Andrea (call me Andy), the tomboy fighter. And lastly, there is Kerri, the researcher, with her dog Sean. Their adventures end well, til one fateful summer. They may have caught the masked man pretending to be a lake monster so he could find buried treasure, but the night they spent on Deboën Isle changed them. Shaped them in ways they could never imagine.
Fastforward to the 90s as these kids are now adults. They’ve drifted apart, each haunted in ways they can’t describe. One is in a mental institution, one a wanderer, one stuck in dead-end jobs. One is dead. Suicide. Those remaining suffer from hallucinations, nightmares, and more, and it’s all linked back to that one fateful night. In despair, yet feeling it the right move, Andrea collects Kerri and Nate so they can return to Blyton and conquer their demons. What they find is beyond all reckoning.
Cantero is a master storyweaver. I could feel the melancholy nostalgia when the group first saw Blyton with the jaded eyes of adulthood; saw the changes time had wrought. It pulled me under, drawing me deeper into the story. And I cannot rave enough about the clever use of dialogue tags. This medley of tags flowed easily, adding to the humour. Usually the use of such diverse dialogue tags comes across as clunky and clumsy. It takes true talent to make it work well. Add to that the smooth shifting of styles, from storytelling to play script and back again.
Seeded within, and supported, are themes of bisexuality, and notions of what love can truly be. I love that this is in here, it’s part of the story, but it’s not the main part. I never felt overwhelmed or bludgeoned by it. It’s simply how these people were. Being the philosopher and metaphysicist that I am, I quite enjoyed the alchemy aspects, the notion of spirit and how it might function, and the Lovecraft influence.
????? Highly Recommended. For all those out there who grew up with Scooby-Doo, Three Investigators, Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew. For those who enjoy HP Lovecraft and Stephen King. For those who appreciate parody of treasured memories, this book is for you.