Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

Were you one of those kids that watched Cartoon Network on Saturday mornings? Did you watch it with a bowl of sugary cereal in your hands? Was the cartoon Scooby-Doo? Meddling Kids offers up a plate full of nostalgia for any adult who loved the mystery solving gang, but, Meddling Kids travels into the types of monsters that scare adults. We shed the zany ghosts, pirates, and witches, and pick up the Necronomicon. We join the Blyton Detective Club in Blyton, a small mining town in Oregon.

In Edgar Cantero’s best selling novel you will follow the detectives into haunted houses, monster-filled lakes, and deep mines as they try to discover if the Deboën family was keeping secrets that could explain the salamander-like creatures walking out of Sleepy Lake. The real questions arise when the detectives discover that the whole haunting could have been caused by their own nosy antics. Cantero builds suspense in a satisfying way that never falters. You will find yourself clinging to the seat of your chair and afraid to turn to the next page. Every event leads to bigger questions that you will want to have answered, the stakes are high and you will have a hard time not being invested. Edgar Cantero introduces his monsters in this haunting description:

“ A new sound was slowly rising over Tim’s growls, taking shape like an underground train or the murmuring of an angry mob. A hateful, familiar sound. Although “familiar” could hardly refer to something so alien. It resembled breathing, but it was distorted, tortured, broken. It had qualities that should not be associated with breathing. It was vicious, and jagged, and swarming.”

Cantero has a way of writing that creeps you out and fascinates you at the same time. This novel is sure to live up to the nostalgia of the Saturday morning cartoon.

Meddling Kids doesn’t just delve into the depths of horror, it explores the effects of mental health and trauma. Each living detective has their own issues they must overcome to solve the mystery of the Sleepy Lake monster. You see parallels of The Scooby-Doo crew, but each character in the novel has their own unique traits that make them more than just cardboard cutouts of the cartoon characters. While borderline cheesy, Meddling Kids, incorporates just enough references to the cartoon to make you feel nostalgic but not a cringe-worthy amount of nostalgia overload. Cantero balances the fine line of throwbacks well and creates his own unique story with interesting characters. This book is a must read for any adult with a Scooby-Doo sweet tooth. This novel is the type of story I would be interested in reading as a series to prolong that childhood reminiscence.

While Meddling Kids is a stark reminder of childhood it also incorporates a heavy brushstroke of adulthood. These characters are not the Scooby gang. We do not have an ascot-wearing Fred Jones to lead the gang, there is no damsel in distress like Daphne, and Tim, the dog in the novel, is not a big goofy scaredy cat like Scooby-Doo. The cartoon is a fun mystery cartoon set in the seventies where the bad guy is always a man in a mask. The cartoon sleuths always come out on top and the bad guys end the show with the famous line, “And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!” In the novel, Meddling Kids they are older and rougher around the edges. A nearly constant stream of profanity flows from their mouths and they have real adult issues. Two characters are escapees from a prison and a mental institute, another is a failed biologist, and their fearless leader committed suicide after a brief and successful stint in Hollywood. The gang is broken and they need each other to pull themselves out of the hole they dug themselves into.

You don’t expect a novel in the vein of Scooby-Doo to be horrifying, but the Lovecraftian monsters and ghoulish figures will surely give you the creeps in a way that you never saw coming. Edgar Cantero mixes humor and horror in a way that keeps the novel interesting and fast-paced. The story has a dark surprise around every corner and will keep you coming back for more, consuming Cantero’s writing at record speed.

This novel is not perfect though. One issue that I have, is the ridiculously long descriptions in the first half of the book. Cantero has a beautiful knack for creating imagery in your head but it tends to drone on to the point of beating a dead horse. He creates sweeping landscapes that make a wonderful setting but they are so thorough that you often forget what was happening in the story. Here is a brief example of a much longer description “Kerri had brought along her binoculars. They were the same ones she used to carry as a child for bird spotting, but they were good binoculars that she treated with care, and they besotted a grown-up. Same went for her magnifying glass and her compass, both artifacts of beautiful craftsmanship that she had owned since childhood hands and still suited long-fingered hands”, This quote goes on to take up seven more lines on the page about Kerri’s binoculars. This does not seem like the kind of novel that requires lengthy descriptions of simple items, it is distracting and makes you lose interest in the plot.

Another issue in this novel is the strange shifts in dialogue. You will be reading a normal section of dialogue and then it will shift to a script-style that you would find in a play. Here is a brief example:

“Yes, please,” Andy shouted back. “Right. So we saw the lake creature, and then what did we do?”

Kerri and Nate were still fighting a smile each.

KERRI: We ran away.

NATE: Sorry, was that “ran” away, or “run,” as in now? Are you telling or suggesting?”

There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason as to why the dialogue changes. My only guess is that it was to help reduce confusion between the people speaking, but to me, it was more confusing trying to figure out why the switch was made than it would have been for the dialogue to stay the same. To me, it felt like the author didn’t trust me, to decipher who was talking, even in a conversation of just three people.

There is a minor love arc in this story that seems to try and steal the spotlight from the beauty of this novel, and for me, it was a distraction from the interesting pieces of the story. While I understand the desire for there to be a romantic interest in the book it came off as an unnecessary side story that felt unbelievable and potentially problematic. Andy, one of the detectives, came off as unable to take no for an answer and being in the heat of the #MeToo movement, that will rub many readers the wrong way. It felt like the wrong move for this story.

But, even with its issues, this is a good novel. Cantero put in a lot of hard work and it shows through his writing, it is well worth its status as a New York Times Best-Seller. The story does not rely entirely on being a trip down memory lane and honestly, the balance is very good. If you are looking for something to take you back to your times in front of the television set as a child, this is the book for you. If you are looking for a book that will surprise you and give you the creeps, this is also the book for you.

Meddling Kids is an easy 4/5 stars. I love the story and I believe that the minor flaws are easily forgivable.