And I Would Have Gotten Away With It – Edgar Cantero: Meddling Kids
Oh, sweet nineties. Humanity launched Hubble into orbit. The World Wide Web started its triumph. The Soviet Union collapsed and the Iron Curtain went with it. The US intervened in the Middle East, and it was still news back then. People developed awful fashin sense. And the most important of them all: Cartoon Network started broadcasting.
Back to that in a minute.
In Hungary, we went through sort of a regime change. It was a peaceful one, there were no mass demonstrations or a revolutions like in Czechoslovakia or Romania. Parties, plural, replaced The Party; there were fair and democratic elections; many people became unemployed; few cronies got rich through the privatization of state companies. And the most important of them all: suddenly satellite dishes appeared in suburban houses like mushrooms in the forest after rain. Combine this with the other newcomers, the videocassette recorders. Childhood!
We lived in a little village without satellite dishes, stuck with some state TV channels. But my grandfather purchased one. There were about 200 channels, most of which in foreign languages, and equally incomprehensible for a 5-year-old child and a 65-year-old retiree. But you don’t really need to understand the language to enjoy Chuck Norris. And there was also Cartoon Network. I encountered the globally famous cartoons first in English and in German.
I particularly liked Scooby Doo, even though I could not understand a word of it. It was years till the dubbed version appeared on TV: Daphne became Diana, “Zoinks!” became “Egek!” (Heavens!) and the famous catchphrase uttered by every unmasked criminal on the show became “...és meg is úsztam volna, ha nincsenek ezek a kotnyeles kölykök!”
So it’s safe to say that childhood nostalgia was a major factor when I got interested in Edgar Cantero’s new book, Meddling Kids, which at first glance looked like a straight Scooby-Doo fan fiction. And it was. But it is much more.
According to newspapers, final case of The Blyton Summer Detective Club in 1977 was a success. The teenage gang catched and unmasked the Sleepy Lake Monster, a petty criminal dressed as sea creature to cover his actions while he was searching for the lost treasure of local haunted mansion. Still, the group never gathered again to solve mysteries in Blyton Hills, a small mining town in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon. Andy, the tomboy ran away and ended up in prison; the beautiful Kerri, the brain of the team, became a bartender instead of a biologist; Nate, the horror nerd, has spent the last thirteen years in and out of mental health institutions; and Peter, the jock who became a movie star committed suicide years ago.
Something terrible happened in the haunted mansion which was beyond their comprehension. Some ancient magic was set loose there. Thirteen years later Andy decides that they have to go back.
This book is a joy to read: Cantero manages to create a seducing mix of Scooby-Doo-references, small town horror and Lovecraftian weird. The Blyton Summer Detective Club is not just a counterfeit version of the Scooby Gang. The characters are interesting in their own right. The “Fred” of this group, Peter, is dead and is only present as a ghost seen by Nate, and who turns out to be an asshole. The new leader is Andy, a brand new character with no parallel in the show. Kerri is a mix of Velma and Daphne. The canine member of the Club, Tim, can’t speak like Scooby, but Cantero treats him almost like a human character.
And while exploring the cold case and the new group dynamics of the once teenage friends, the stakes became higher and higher. Old foes become allies, decades-old secrets come to light. One question remains: can the rag-tag group of miserable young adults prevent the apocalypse? Cantero hit the right notes everywhere throughout the book and he is able to neatly tie up every loose ends till we reach the last page. My only problem was that while the story is set in 1990, there are relatively few points where you feel the vibes of the era.
All in all: Meddling Kids is an action-packed, clever, simultaneously light-hearted and dramatic adventure with great characters and awesome prose. A rare phenomenon: my 5-year-old and 26-year-old self was equally satisfied with it.