Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids is cosmic horror-comedy about a group of child detectives who grew up. This premise caught my eye because I read a lot of Enid Blyton/Hardy Boys/kid detective bookmill output when I was about ten, and a bunch of Lovecraft and friends more recently, making me its exact target audience.
The “child detectives who grew up” aspect is handled quite well. Cantero clearly has a working knowledge of the genre’s tropes (there’s a team dog, one of the characters is an expy of Famous Five’s George, right down to the male-name-for-short). Much of the plot is built on the incongruity between the characters’ impossibly idyllic childhood detective capers and their more realistic and depressing adult lives. How did such bright kids grow up to be such messed-up adults? This being speculative fiction, the answer is at least partially supernatural.
The cosmic horror aspect is less well handled. I wouldn’t call it Lovecraftian – there’s no uncaring universe, or profoundly alien beings to be found here. Lovecraftian monsters are used to fill zombie fight scenes and lend a slightly less generic atmosphere to occult intrigue. The word “Necronomicon” gets thrown around a lot, and that’s about as deep as the cosmic themes go.
Cantero’s prose is snappy and moves the story along at a good clip – action scenes are a particular highlight – but it gets too clever for its own good. Scenes switch between regular prose and script format haphazardly, usually but not always during conversation. I’m not sure what that was supposed to add, but it mostly detracts. There are also a lot of indulgent metaphors and references that only occasionally work.
Andy made a slow, Mars-speed orbit on her feet, inspecting around.
The steps agonized like B-movie actors.
The dog swiftly sat down, stiff like an Egyptian jackal god, throwing a Terminatorish I’ll be back glance at the armrest.
Andy Humpty-Dumptied onto a steel girder
Speaking of indulgence, two of the main characters end up in a lesbian relationship that only one seems to be actively pursuing. Which is… something. Cantero writes this in a way that’s clearly straining for progressive kudos, but I got a strong impression that he’d typed most of their scenes with one hand.
Worst of all, the story completely falls apart in the last quarter or so, with stupid character motivations and thoroughly unrealistic actions. The first scene of part four, in which the gang commits arson, is particularly difficult to swallow.
Good concept, poor execution.