Author: Edgar Cantero
Genre: Fantasy, Mystery
Publisher: Doubleday Books / Titan Books UK
Publication date: July 2017
1990. The teen detectives once known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon) are all grown up and haven’t seen each other since their fateful, final case in 1977. Andy, the tomboy, is twenty-five and on the run, wanted in at least two states. Kerri, one-time kid genius and budding biologist, is bartending in New York, working on a serious drinking problem. At least she’s got Tim, an excitable Weimaraner descended from the original canine member of the team. Nate, the horror nerd, has spent the last thirteen years in and out of mental health institutions, and currently resides in an asylum in Arhkam, Massachusetts. The only friend he still sees is Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star. The problem is, Peter’s been dead for years.
The time has come to uncover the source of their nightmares and return to where it all began in 1977. This time, it better not be a man in a mask. The real monsters are waiting.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Print
Warning: spoilers ahead. Trigger warning for transphobia.
Well, I was super ready for this Scooby Doo meets Lovecraft romp of a book – but the really messy and often gross execution ruined EVERYTHING.
It’s the early nineties, and the group of young adults once known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club are all grown up and fucked up because of a case they meddled with years ago when they were teenagers. There was a mansion, a villain-in-a-monster-costumer who was arrested because of those meddling kids, and a couple of still unexplained details they have been trying to forget but can’t. Like for example, the real monsters from underground that might have been involved? And an old book of incantations in an eldritch language that may have been lying around?
Now in their early twenties, they decide to get the gang together and return to Blyton Hills and solve the crime for real this time. And maybe by doing that, they will be able to get their shit together:
Andy is a tomboy, ex-military who is now on the run on several states. She has been in love with Kerri since they were teens but has been unable to express her feelings until now. Kerri is the genius of the group who wanted to be a biologist but ended up quitting college to bartend in NY. She has a drinking problem, a tiny apartment and her dog Tim is the only thing keeping her sane. Tim is the direct descendant of Sean, the original Good Dog of the group. Nate is a horror nerd who has spent the last thirteen years in an out of mental health institutions whose only contact with the group is through Peter, the group’s handsome leader who has been dead for years.
What follows next is a blend of road trip, friends reunion and mystery solving in the tradition of Scooby Doo with a bunch of Lovecraftian monsters thrown in for good measure. There is a degree of nostalgia-tapping here of course and a mix of fun time with bleak darkness as these young adults try to grow up. Thus, there is a good, fun premise here but sadly, it’s buried under poor execution.
Meddling Kids is simply put: messy.
From a technical point of view there is lots of head jumping from sentence to sentence. Then for no good discernible reason, the narrative veers in and out screenplay format in between lines of dialogue. There are even stage directions – and these all come out of nowhere in the middle of paragraphs then disappear until they come back out of the blue again pages later. It’s a jarring narrative quirk that serves no larger purpose: it fits no character arc or the larger plotline in any shape or form. Your mileage may vary of course – my jarring narrative quirk may be your delightful catnip.
However, there are two elements from Meddling Kids that are truly problematic.
Starting with the relationship between Andy and Kerri. They are friends but Andy has been in love with Kerri all her life. It could have been a sad/cute element of the story if it wasn’t creepy as fuck in the way that Andy is constantly checking out and coming on to Kerri – who expressed multiple times that she is straight and not interested sexually in Andy. Andy hand waves Kerri’s protestations multiple times, keeping at it until the very end with no indication from Kerri that she would indeed appreciate a sexual liaison with Andy.
Frankly, the whole situation, along with the description of Andy’s love and her checking her friend out, the description of the women’s bodies and how they touch each other really reads like a gross version of lesbian romance through the male gaze.
Then, we have the final villain reveal. The villain turns out to be a trans woman – and I am wary of calling the character a trans woman because the character went through a sex change operation simply so they could hide better given “how easy it is these days” (mind you, this book is set in the 90s). This is such a charged element of the novel, I am surprised that I haven’t seen more discussion around it. It’s problematic for a number of reasons starting in how it only serves to feed the poisonous narrative around trans people being deceptive cross dressers and ending with the dangerous equating of transness with villainy.