A teen detective club story crossed with the Ctuthlu mythos seemed like an appealing book but Meddling Kids didn't live up to my expectations. I love Scooby Doo and most of the other teen detective stories that are referenced in this book (The Famous Five was the most obvious, but Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden were also referenced), so I had high hopes for a book about what happens when those kids get back together over a decade later. My disappointment in the book was twofold. Firstly, I found the storytelling to be hit or miss: sometimes I was engrossed in the plot and at other times I was bored. Secondly, the writing style was really off-putting, with a consistently weird use of language.
The strange use of language was really jarring. I could never settle into reading without another distracting phrase taking my attention. I was also left with the feeling that Cantero was throwing some big words in to sound fancy, without having any idea what those words meant. A few examples out of the many:
Cap, where do you even keep all this stuff?Andy wondered, already alarmed at the size of the impedimenta parked on the anecdotic sidewalk.
These few examples are enough to give an idea of what the writing in this book is like. It seemed like there was some weird phrase or strange usage or neologism on every page.
And apart from this jarring use of language, the writing also changed over the book, starting off with a second person point of view, moving on to third person point of view, then occasionally turning into a screenplay script (with stage directions). It was all just a little disconcerting and detracted from the story.
The idea for the story is a good one. Four kids and a dog spend their summers together, holidaying in a small town in Oregon. They form the Blyton Hills Summer Detective Club and solve crimes, often using elaborate traps, such as the ‘reverse werewolf trap’ to catch the bad guys. In 1977 they catch the Sleepy Lake Monster, aka Thomas Wickley, another criminal dressing up in a scary costume while searching for hidden treasure. While it seems like another successful case, not everything is explained away and the kids are left haunted by some of the things they see and do. They stop holidaying in Blyton Hills and try to get on with life. By 1990, thirteen years later, Kerri, the former girl genius has dropped out of college to become a bartender intent on drinking her life away. Andy lives a hobo lifestyle, wandering across the country, wanted in several States for breaking out of gaol. Nate has committed himself to Arkham asylum, suffering from hallucinations. And Peter spends most of his time with Nate, despite having over-dosed on sleeping pills several years earlier. Even the dog has changed, replaced with the grandson of the original dog. But Andy is tired of running and wants answers, so she gets the gang back together to return to Blyton Hills with a plan to re-examine their last case. The first part of the story is about getting everyone back together, including breaking Nate out of the asylum, then the main story focusses on their return to Blyton Hills.
There are parts of the story which live up to the premise, and which I really enjoyed reading. When the book is good, it is really fun. It's just that the good bits get a bit lost much of the time. I enjoyed the gang confronting their memories and reliving what had happened to them. I liked Peter's snarky comments at what everyone is doing and Nate's attempts to hide his conversations with Peter from the others. I liked the action sequences and the fights with the lake monsters who turned out to be some pre-Cambrian survivors who live in the carbon dioxide filled mines near the lake, brought to the surface by the mining operations. These monsters were seriously scary, and I even felt for the villain of the story who faces an epic battle with them near the end of the book. And despite some reservations I have about the villain, they do get the best line in the book - "(Mostly annoyed.) Oh, fuck off." Trust me, when you read this line in context, it's fantastic.
I also enjoyed the inobtrusive love story that seems to have a happy, if unexpected, outcome at the end.
What specifically didn't I like? The villain's motivations for one. They were unconvincing. I just couldn't believe that someone would really put that much effort into something for the flimsy reason given. I also didn't like that the villain turned out to be transgender, using gender switching solely as a disguise, and describing it as an easy thing to do. That idea seems to play into the whole trans-people-are-only-trans-for-nefarious-purposes line that some people espouse as an excuse for bigotry.
I can't really recommend this one as a great read, but it had some good parts, and if you can ignore the writing style and language, it is an interesting read at times.