As we’ve discussed before, I do not like scary things. I do not like horror movies, zombies, vampires, werewolves, or monsters. I do not like haunted houses. I do not like fish, unless the fish in question is being served to me, preferably with some wasabi and pickled ginger.
How, then, I ended up reading – and enjoying! – Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids is a mystery. Presumably, I read a glowing review, and seized by the same lunatic impulse that makes me order turkey bacon, (“This will be good for me!”) I put it on hold and promptly went back to my typical, non-spooky reading.
Happily, Meddling Kids is NOTHING like turkey bacon. It’s a lot of things: an homage to Scooby-Doo, an offbeat love story, and a whirlwind of biting humor and lively, inventive prose. And while it involves creepy magic, maybe-monsters, a possibly haunted house and definitely gills, the tone is campy enough that I was never truly scared.
In 1977, the young members of the Blyton Summer Detective Club shot to local fame after using zany contraptions and sheer gumption to capture a thief who was masquerading as a lake monster in order to steal from a secluded mansion. (Why, yes. This sounds remarkably like Scooby Doo. That’s not a coincidence.) But the BSDC disbanded shortly thereafter, trying to cope with the truth of what really happened in the mansion and surrounding woods.
The story picks up in 1991, when the still-living members of the club reunite – along with Tim, the great-granddog of their original canine sidekick, and maybe the ghost of their leader, Pete – to return to the scene of the crime and face down the evil still lurking in the mansion.
There are plenty of callbacks to Scooby Doo, the Goonies, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. But what keeps this from being a simple tribute is the friendship between the club members. They’re a ragtag group, fearful and flawed and grieving. But they’re also funny, brave, and devoted to each other. They’re trying desperately to confront the demons, both literal and metaphorical, of their past. It’s a surprising amount of heart, evident in the quietest moments and the most action-packed scenes, and it makes the ending twists (there are several) even more meaningful.
While it’s obvious that this book will appeal to fans of Stranger Things and Ready Player One, the mix of horror elements, magic, dark humor and playful language will also hook fans of Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and Christopher Moore.
Just don’t read it while snacking on turkey bacon. Some things are just too scary.