Scooby Doo meets Stranger Things meets H.P. Lovecraft in this inventive tongue-in-cheek horror adventure. 13 years on from their final case, the all-grown-up Blyton Summer Detective Club have returned to their sleepy Oregon hometown in order to put their demons to rest. Unfortunately, some real demons will rise up from the depths of the sinister Sleepy Lake to meet them…
First of all, the obvious big hook with Meddling Kids is how it acts as an adult love letter to children's detective stories, following in the grand tradition of Hanna-Barbera’s classic canine-themed cartoon and The Famous Five. Cantero wears his influences on his sleeve, frequently including neat references (the book’s set by the Zoinx River - named after Shaggy’s catchphrase) for fans to enjoy.
Where the book comes to life, though, is in its inversion of the usual tropes and the decision to slam the memory of these children’s favourites together with full-blooded horror like Lovecraftian ancient monsters. Cantero has fun poking holes in the old formula - why do the team always split up? They’re more vulnerable that way! - and exploring the irresistible idea that maybe the monsters weren’t all just some old guy in a cheap Halloween mask.
The IT-like jump forward in time allows Cantero to explore the titular meddling kids as three-dimensional characters beyond just being parodies of famous characters. Perhaps the one who benefits this best is Andy, a loose meld of Scooby Doo’s Velma and Enid Blyton’s George. As an adult, Andy gets to step up as the new leader of the team, growing from a tomboy to an ex-military action hero - and exploring her long-held insecurities about her sexuality in the process.
On the other hand, Cantero’s chosen prose style may prove contentious. The writer clearly intends to have some fun with his readers as he smashes through the ‘fourth wall’ throughout e.g. referring to things that happened ‘on the last page’ and switching to a script layout for extended periods of speech. Some might think it suits the playful tone of the story, but it can also be distracting and take you out of the narrative.
All in all, however, Meddling Kids is as fun and as thrilling as chasing a ghost through a haunted house with your best pals. Happily, there are hints that a follow-up could be on the cards, so we are looking forward to more spine-tingling, rib-tickling adventures for the BSDC to come.
MEDDLING KIDS / AUTHOR: EDGAR CANTERO / TITAN BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 3RD