Category: Comedy


Later than I’d planned for, but this is one that I’ve been looking forward to finishing. It’s been a book that I’d been meaning to read since before its release but didn’t get the chance to really dig into until this week. Here’s Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids. Enjoy!

Meddling Kids cover

Back in 1977 the kids of the Blyton Summer Detective Club had their last big case, some guy in a mask was hunting around in a supposed haunted house and the Blyton Summer Detective Club decided to stop him. They succeeded, really, they did. But maybe they saw a little more than they were meant to. A lot more than they were meant to. They solved the case, but what they saw broke them a little and they went their separate ways. The tomboy, wanted in two states. The brain, turned biologist, turned alcoholic. The golden boy, a star on film and in person, burned out before his time. The horror geek who turned himself over to an asylum, the only one who still talks to the golden boy even if he wishes he didn’t.  But the case wasn’t finished, not by a long shot. And that’s going to drag them back to the town where summer lived. The Blyton Hills, where their last big case was never fully solved, where everything went wrong, where just maybe they can put it back together again and put the past to rest. Put the past to rest and maybe save the world while they’re at it.

Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids is a deeply interesting beast of a book combining a number of takes on its own prose and some distinctly strange ideas that I want to see more of. This is, from title to composition to set up a fond reflection of those other meddling kids and their Great Dane. It isn’t a one to one thing, certainly, but the familiarity from that reflection allows for a certain degree of comfort with the less Saturday morning cartoon aspects. Lovecraftian strangeness and all that.

That’s actually a really good starting point here, Meddling Kids is sort of Lovecraft by way of Scooby Doo. It’s a lot softer than most of the Lovecraft based stuff I’ve read, more comedy than pure horror. But it plays with the wrongnesses worked into the fabric of reality that make up the horror of a lot of that sort of style of horror deals with. The writing will sort of break from standard prose into stage directions and lines and then snap back, characters interact with the narrative in non-standard ways. Kerrie, the resident brain, has hair that’s almost a character of its own. It reacts to things and has feelings, and somehow that’s done frankly enough in the writing to work. Similarly Tim, the Weimaraner, is given a ton of human reactions and is textually treated as being as self aware as the rest of the cast. Even buildings get in on the act. This all makes for some really nifty double take moments. It can also be a bit distracting when you first start reading, so there is that.

As far as the story goes, it feels very much like a comedy horror detective story. It is, in fact, shaped like itself. That isn’t a bad thing by any stretch, but I do feel like it shines the most when the characters have reached Blyton Hills and are poking at the things they hadn’t had the chance or awareness to investigate in the past. The points where things they’d talked about or experienced as kids come back up in the story, how safe a room had always felt or wanting to ride a mine cart, are really strong points for the characters and they feel good. This reads best when the focus is squarely on the characters, when it’s a bunch of former teen detectives trying to go back to what was and get down to the bottom of what is. It stays there too. The reader gets to see Andy being grumpy and aggressive and trying to keep the team going. We get Nate trying to keep it together as things get weirder and weirder and the dead guy won’t stop talking to him. I do wish we has seen more of the dead guy, I feel like Peter could have been a bigger presence throughout.

The setting is also great. Like I mentioned before, buildings become almost characters, reacting to the characters approach, muttering, and the like. The town of Blyton Hills is a town dying a slow death, but not ready to let go. There’s still people and drama and the issue with that old mansion. The choice to have the book take place in 1990 also works well with a lot of standard horror tropes. The technology we rely so readily upon just isn’t there, so they’re cut off in a lot of ways. There is no just grabbing a cell phone to call for back up, because they weren’t nearly as common. Likewise, the research needed has to be done by hand because the internet wasn’t as big or readily accessible. It also sort of slots the story into this sort of timeless place that doesn’t feel quite real, technology is seldom specifically brought up so the reader can sort of let things slide as they will. Blyton Hills itself has that sort of not real feeling so many fading towns get, it meshes well with the cast being comparatively small, but we’re also treated to the protagonists noting how empty the place feels. It makes for a pretty fantastic level of low key creepiness.

Meddling Kids is definitely a book that I hope gets a follow up. The handful of things I wasn’t a fan of pale in comparison to the things that work. This gets a five out of five from me. And I’m probably going to go looking for more of Edgar Cantero’s work.

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I’m late again. I dozed off after work and slept longer than I should have. But I’m fairly happy with how this turned out all the same. This book makes me think quite a bit of some of the old horror comics I grew up reading but more overtly funny. This one’s from netGalley, here’s James Aquilone’s Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device. Enjoy!

Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device cover

Dead Jack is the best zombie detective in ShadowShade, possibly all of Pandemonium. It doesn’t hurt that he’s the only one around. It also doesn’t hurt that he’ll do anything for fairy dust. No job is too big as long as the price is right, possibly right up to saving all of Pandemonium. That is, if he can survive leprechauns with a grudge, a mad bat-god, and his own ideas.

So, James Aquilone’s Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device is kind of an odd critter of a book. I’m left feeling simultaneously like I have very little to say about it and just wanting to throw all the words possible at it. It’s a detective story with very little detective work. The protagonist is terrible but still likeable. The side characters don’t show up much but they work so well when they do. It’s pretty great.

Our protagonist, Dead Jack, is the embodiment of everything I tend to dislike about noir detective style protagonists. He’s a jerk, he can’t function without his addiction of choice, he stubbornly refuses to believe that his companions could accomplish anything without him around, he should be the worst. But it’s all played in this sort of humorous subversion of tropes way. He’s addicted to fairy dust, both for the high and as a means of suppressing his zombie hunger, and thinks about it pretty regularly. It is in fact the entire reason he takes the case, but it doesn’t become something he waxes on about for pages at a time. We’re given mentions of him wanting fairy dust or of noticing the effects of it on other characters, but it’s for the purpose of telling us about the scene or the world. Jack is terrible to his homunculus partner, Oswald, but Oswald gives as good as he gets and the story never tries to convince the reader that Jack is in the right when he’s being a jerk. That wins both the character and the writing a lot of points from me.

Tied into that, Jack seems to be the least competent character in the book. But we are seeing things from his ridiculous self-aggrandizing point of view in such a way that it’s funny rather than annoying. This is a character who actually thinks that he’s an amazing detective, but the story itself doesn’t agree so there’s a nice balance there.

There’s a lot of that actually. Dead Jack has a tragic back story somewhere along the lines, but he doesn’t seem to remember most of it. We get some bits of it that serve to rattle Jack and tease more, but nothing that takes pages at a time. The reader is sort of dropped into the middle of Pandemonium and expected to keep up. It’s a world very different from our own, but its Jack’s home so he doesn’t go much into the specific differences. That allows the reader to build their own conclusions on specifics while keeping the pace fairly quick.

Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device is a very quick read but very tightly plotted for how short it is. There isn’t a ton of time taken to flesh out the world that isn’t also being used to move the story forward or introduce a near immediately important concept. It takes good advantage of slower scenes to set up ideas for later without grinding to a halt.

This was a really enjoyable read and I am definitely going to be looking for the next one when it comes out. Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device gets a five out of five from me. If you enjoy off beat detective stories or just need a way to spend a couple days, it’s worth giving a shot.