Edgar Cantero’s 2018 Meddling Kids is the latest book in the Blyton Summer Detective Club Adventure series1.
In 1977, the Blyton Summer Detective Club — Peter, Kerri, Andy, Nate, and their dog Sean — capped off their successful teen detecting careers with the revelation of that the Sleepy Lake Monster was just would-be burglar Thomas Wickley in a rubber mask.
Wickley was sent off to prison. The four teens got on their lives. Thirteen years later, the surviving members of the Blyton Summer Detective Club are faced with a terrible revelation: they got their final case wrong.
Peter, Kerri, Andy, and Nate were each haunted in their own way by that final case. Kerri never finished her promising academic career, Andy is a vagrant, Nate has been in and out of mental institutions, and Peter, who seemed the most successful of them all, committed suicide. Convinced after a confrontation with a recently released Wickley that the Detective Club overlooked something important about the Sleepy Lake case, Andy tracks down Kerri and Nate. She persuades them to accompany Andy back to Oregon’s Zoinx River Valley and to Blyton, the home town that none of the friends have seen since they were kids.
There are, of course, some complications. Nate may have signed himself into an institution voluntarily, but the doctors have to agree that he is sane if he is to be allowed to leave. Faster to simply break him out. Andy took leave of a Texas jail before her sentence was up, which means that flying across the nation is out of the question. Such things will not keep the trio (and Tim, the latest in a line of dogs descended from Sean) from confronting the true mystery of Sleepy Lake.
The three may not have played detective in thirteen years, but they still have the skills. They canvas the town, digging up information on the spooky Deboen mansion that Wickley planned to burgle. Damien Deboen, the man who built the mansion and commissioned the mine that fuelled the town’s brief prosperity, had a dark reputation for dabbling in the dark arts. The town took the rumours seriously enough that generations later the last Deboen, Dunea Deboen, is a pariah.
A confrontation with a genuine Sleepy Lake monster, savage and unlike any animal known to science, confirms that there is true behind the legends. There is something terrible under the mountain and Deboen was intent on calling it. The mines were merely a tool in Deboen’s quest to wake a sleeping horror. The menace should have ended with Deboen’s death. Alas, although Nate is very reluctant to admit what he did, during their last foray into the crumbling mansion, Nate found a tome. Worse, he read from it.
There will be consequences.
Some details that drove me up the wall: oxygen does not burn, as such; I cannot believe in CO2-breathing monsters; and no witches were burned in Salem. The Blyton Summer Detective Club mentions the last over and over. Apparently the public education system in Blyton was sub-par.
The author is not just riffing on Scooby-Doo: as the club’s name suggests, there is a lot of Famous Five in here. I was also reminded of a few other famous teen crime fighters, such as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.
Of course the author decided to reveal that the butch girl on the team is lesbian. How stereotypical.
The arrangement between lesbian Andy and straight Kerri seems prone to unfortunate failure modes. There’s some comfort in knowing that however it ends, the denouement won’t be as bad as that time they accidentally summoned an inter-dimensional horror from beyond space and time, so they have that going for them.
The plot is atypical in that the small-town cops actually listen to the volunteer sleuths right off the bat. Not done in proper teen detective (or amateur detective) stories. It helps that the three surviving members of the team think to gather physical evidence; also that the local cops do remember all the cases the Club had successfully solved.
Some readers may find the author’s stylistic choices — shifting perspective, occasional forays into script-style prose, flagrant violations of the fourth wall, the grim reality of life post-teen adventures — off putting. Other might be a little disappointed that there was really a monster under the mansion, as that undermines the central lesson of Scooby-Doo (adults lie all the time, and that most crime is the fault of capitalists in unconvincing masks).
If you like noir-ish re-imaginings of childhood favourites (and have not seen 2010 – 2013’s Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated ), then this may be for you.
Meddling Kids is available [Amazon placeholder until the strike is over] and here (Chapters-Indigo).
1: Also the only book in the series, but hey, who am I to stop people from enjoying themselves trying to track down the earlier books?