Meddling Kids: A Novel by Edgar Cantero (book review).

October 16, 2017 | By | Reply More

What happens when teen detectives grow up? As teens Andy, Kerri, Nate and Peter spent their summers together in the town of Blyton Hills and, through investigating local cases, became known as The Blyton Summer Detective Club. But despite what people may think, being teen detectives, isn’t as glamorous and jovial as the press would have the masses believe. Despite the case being considered resolved, the crew know that there’s something wrong with their last case and that it wasn’t quite resolved when they thought it was. So, after it haunting them for years, the crew, minus Peter who committed suicide, get back together as dysfunctional adults to re-open the case. What will they find when they return to Blyton Hills as adults?

Possibly the most intriguing aspect of this book is the concept. Teen detectives have enjoyed being quite a long term trend in children’s literature, particularly in generations gone by, establishing a wealth of trends and tropes, that readers expect as part of the teen detective experience. There’s a myth about teen detectives that they save the day and are heroes and everything’s all amazing. So, in this book, Cantaro has twisted all these tropes, revisiting a group of teen detectives when they’re in their twenties and to look at a case that has haunted them for years.

This is quite an interesting twist on the teen detective trope, as the narrative peels away some of the glitz and glamour associated with teen detectives and the cases they solve, uncovering some current adult problems in the process, including not doing well career-wise, poverty, mental health and distance in friendships. Yet, while dealing with these serious issues and dealing with a case that is based in fairly dark magic that is more serious than the characters realised when they investigated the case as children, Cantaro enthuses the narrative with humour. This provides a good blend that makes the dark subject matter more entertaining and really helps to explore some serious issues and subvert some tropes of the genre in a way that is accessible and enjoyable to readers.

The mystery element of the book was quite engaging. Naturally, I cannot talk too much about how the case was resolved, but Cantaro delivered some plot twists that I really did not see coming. The case that you are presented with at the beginning of the book is actually nothing like the truth that you discover later in the book when all is revealed.

The team dynamic amongst the detectives is quite interesting. Kerri, Andy, Nate and their dog, Tim, are the remaining members of the crew. Peter, their fourth human member had committed suicide, but is present in the novel as a ghost who can only speak to Nate, which I wasn’t that keen on, but it did make a bit more sense to the plot later on. What was nice about the story is that the start was all about getting the team back together, which meant the reader got too know the characters and their relationships before they arrive at Blyton Hills and start investigating their unfinished case.

Cantaro builds in characterisation in some quite unusual ways. For example, on the trip to Blyton Hills, Kerri and Andy play a word game, which helps to build up their relationship in a social setting, while giving them something to do. Because they haven’t seen each other in a while and don’t really know what to talk about, the game acts as a starting point that gets them thinking, which then sparks further conversation. This is a really good vehicle for getting characters talking in what in other books may be a situation where they would sit in silence and therefore not provide much characterisation. It’s a really cool technique that I was impressed by.

Another thing that was interesting about the book was that it contained a mash-up of so many genres that complemented each other and bounced off each other in really intriguing ways. The book contains science with some quite in depth biology, fantasy with some quite in-depth theoretical content about magic, horror, detective and crime with the investigation and comedy with the way much of the content was delivered. Despite so many genres, they complement each other and play off each other in a way that works for the story.

‘Medding Kids’ wasn’t as character driven as I usually like in stories, however this was to be expected as it was quite a concept-driven story with the idea of the teenage detective getting back together as adults and the focus being exploring some of the tropes of that dynamic. However, if you enjoy reading teen detective stories or perhaps enjoyed them when you were a child, this is a more adult take on this that you may enjoy.

Do be advised, that while heavily based in tropes of children’s literature, this is certainly not a book for children, both because of containing some quite adult themes as well as its very liberal use of adult language. However, for adults who like teen detective stories, people who are looking for something a bit unusual or people who like to explore deep subject matter enthused with humour, then this may be of interest.

Rebecca Thorne

October 2017

(pub: Doubleday. 322 page hardback. Price: $26.95 (US). ISBN-13: 978-0-38554-199-2)

check out website: www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/548337/meddling-kids-by-edgar-cantero/9780385541992/

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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