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Scooby-Cthulhu – ‘Meddling Kids’

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Genre mashup brings together kid detectives and Lovecraftian horror

What if a group of kid detectives accidentally stumbled onto a mystery that was far deeper and darker than the standard “guy in a mask with an overelaborate scheme” to which they’ve become accustomed?

That’s the central question in Edgar Cantero’s “Meddling Kids” (Doubleday, $26.95), a freewheeling, frightening and gloriously weird mashup of pop culture tropes and Lovecraftian horror that centers around a gang of young detectives and the long-ago case that has never stopped haunting their dreams.

In the mid-1970s, the quaint village of Blyton Hills – a former mining town nestled in Oregon’s Zoinx River Valley – played host to a cadre of young detectives. This group of fast friends – confident leader Peter, bookish genius Kerri, adventurous tomboy Andy and horror nerd Nate (along with a canine compatriot) – solved a number of mysteries as the Blyton Summer Detective Club. Their final case was the unmasking of the elusive Sleepy Lake Monster, who turned out to be yet another in a long line of get-rich-quickers taken down by the BSDC.

But that case was more than a mask – and deep down, they all know it.

Fast-forward 13 years to 1990. Kerri’s once-promising future has been derailed by bad memories and booze; she’s a New York bartender sharing a dingy studio apartment with her pet Weimaraner Tim (a direct descendent of the club’s original doggie sidekick). Andy has been in and out of trouble for years; she’s in it now, on the run from the law in at least two states. Nate is holed up in an asylum in Arkham, Massachusetts; he’s the only one who’s still in touch with Peter, which is unfortunate considering that Peter has been dead for some time now.

Forces beyond their understanding slowly bring the club back together; the only thing that they know for sure is that what happened that night at the Deboen Mansion involved far more than just another petty crook in a costume. There were true horrors at work that night – and those horrors might be returning.

The gang is all grown up, but in some ways, they never moved beyond that dark night in 1977. And if they can’t solve the mystery for real this time, the consequences could be dire – not just for them and for their friends, but for the whole town of Blyton and – just maybe – the world as we know it.

The elevator pitch for “Meddling Kids” is pretty simple – call it Scooby-Cthulhu and you’ve not only gotten the gist, but also the attention of anyone who might have been remotely interested in the book. While that’s great – and accurate – it’s also not the whole story.

What Cantero has done here is bring together two disparate narrative flavors in a surprising and wildly entertaining fashion. The kid detective trope is a resonant one; maybe you weren’t into the Scooby Gang, but you dug the Hardy Boys or some other youthful crime-solving characters. And any fan of Lovecraft or Robert Howard or any of the weird fiction writers who came after are going to be familiar with the tropes and traps of the Cthulhu Mythos. It’s a jarring, yet perfectly logical pairing that allows for some pretty incredible storytelling possibilities.

“Meddling Kids” could have been a gimmicky pastiche, a slapdash exercise in genre fusion. Instead, it is a thoughtful and well-constructed narrative that captures elements of horror and humor in just the right proportions. You’ve got Old Gods slumbering miles beneath the surface of the Earth and their foot soldiers ready to overwhelm an unexpected populace. But then you’ve also got occasional reminiscences about cases solved and criminals captured with schemes that seem even more outlandish than their cartoonish descriptions.

Not to mention the realistic treatment of the adult aftermath of a childhood spent solving mysteries, fighting crime and getting caught up in occult weirdness far too esoteric to process. There’s an emotional connection here that really elevates the story – seeing these people (and their remarkably thoroughly-characterized dog) strive desperately to deal with past events they barely understand and rebuild relationships abandoned to the darkness makes for one hell of a compelling narrative.

“Meddling Kids” is smart and scary, with chuckles and shudders aplenty. It’s the best kind of mashup – one that doesn’t use its premise as a crutch. Don’t get me wrong – the concept is awesome, but that’s not all there is. Cantero uses his brilliant central idea to spin out a story that proves worthy of such an outstanding origin.

It was a great plan, and he got away with it too – thanks to those meddling kids. 

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