Every now and then one of those great little books comes along that does exactly what it says on the tin. Too many books these days seek readers by being misleading about their contents. Not so with Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero.
From the title itself (reminiscent of every Scooby Doo episode ever) to the paperback’s use of the font from Stranger Things, before the blurb is even read the reader know they’re in for a story about teenage sleuths, haunted carnivals, smugglers, ghost pirates (pirate ghosts?), villains named ‘Old Man _____’, haunted houses, and a loyal dog.
The book, once opened, does not disappoint as it introduces us to the former members of the Blyton Summer Detective Club, a group of twenty-somethings who, when children, used to join forces during summer vacation at Aunt Margo’s holiday house to solve crimes. However, they operated in 1976-77 and, when we meet them in 1990, we learn that their last case didn’t end very well. Perhaps more truthfully, it didn’t end at all. The group (with some difficulty) gets back together again to return to Blyton Hills with the painful realisation that the solution they found was only the beginning of a far larger mystery. They (as children) had failed to comprehend the involvement of the Necronomicon, warlocks, and a delightfully Lovecraftian horror plot.
Though the book is set thirteen years after their heyday, the premise of the child sleuthing gang still works, particularly when Cantero uses it to parody the genre. Watching the gang realise how many times they almost died, broke the law and/or did something incredibly stupid is almost a shared moment with the author. Because of this, Meddling Kids manages to be that rarest of beasts: a parody which is also a welcome addition to the genre. Think Blazing Saddles and westerns, or any of Pratchett’s Discworld novels to heroic fantasy. It not only entertains and amuses but also points out the tropes, clichés and stereotypes of the original subject matter in a kind way.
If there is a down side to Meddling Kids it is Cantero’s use of scripting in odd moments. He uses prose mostly throughout but at odd times will revert to the use of playscript (complete with stage directions). No reason is given, nor is any apparent. This is not so much quirky as it is jarring, and takes the reader out of the flow of the narrative.
This is a minor point only however, and Meddling Kids remains an immensely satisfying book, which should appeal to anyone who recognises the elements of the cover.
Reviewed by DC White
Rating out of 10: 9
Released by: Doubleday and available through Amazon Australia
Released: March 2018
Price: $20.81 hardcover, $13.73 paperback, $5.83 eBook