The What If of this book can be summed up as:
What if Mystery, Inc., had actually tangled with chthonic beasts and didn’t realize it until their mid-twenties?
What I thought of Meddling Kids? Well, that’s a bit of a mystery, too.
Tim [the Weimariner] whimpered, olivertwisting his pale blue eyes. –Kindle ed. loc 72
Yes, you read that verb right. And I know that I have a signature lots of places that says “verbing weirds language” (thanks, Bill Watterson). But the choices made in this book in terms of when to throw in a neologism like the above, vs. write in a very straightforward third-person semi-limited POV (one of our three protagonists, generally), vs. write the dialogue like a screen play complete with (stage directions) and the occasional dive into second person pov was occasionally more than a little jarring. My impression is that this was intentional, trying to establish just how off-kilter the titular kids’ world turns out to be, but occasionally I got tossed directly out of the story to have to puzzle through what something meant.
The book opens with a nightmare sequence, introduces two and a half of our Kids (Kerri, the smart one, who is now a biologist, owns Tim, and has apparently semi-sentient red hair as well as screaming nightmares; Nate, the crazy one, who is in a therapy session when we meet him and who keeps seeing Peter, the Jock, despite Peter being dead) and flows into the Parole Hearing of one Mr. Wickley, who was locked up as a result of the kids’ “solving” his case when they were pre-teens.
Gentlemen. I staged a haunting in an old mansion and dressed myself as a giant salamander to scare people away. I was captured by four teenagers and a Weimaraner. And I am sixty. Do you seriously believe I pose a threat to anyone? — loc 173
Finally, we are introduced to Andy (very butch, the bull-headed one, the fighter, and a QPOC) when she tracks down Wickley to ask him about the case they busted him for, because she like Nate and Kerri can’t get it out of her head. Toward the end of her interrogation of Wickley, he cries out:
Iä fhtagn Thtaggoa! Iä mwlgn nekrosunai! Ng’ngah’hai, zhro! – loc 195
And yes indeedie, that is where we are going.
For all my issues with the writing style and stylistic choices, this book is a fun ride, but I’m having trouble thinking who exactly to recommend it for. Probably not anyone with a body horror or blood squick, and go in knowing there’s some problematic stuff, but it’s also a nostalgic fun ride through a backward mirror and a satisfactory whodunnit. There are brief mentions of Mythos locations (Miskatonic and Arkham both show up, as do the Necronomicon and the Mad Arab). And even amidst the “look, a writer was behind this” tics, there’s some really lovely writing:
Kerri lowered her eyes, her left hand instinctively pining for Tim. The dog noticed and gently kissed her palm. –loc 2615
Tim barked a loud four-letter word at the sudden thunder that made the butterfly displays flutter on the walls. — loc 5020
In the end, I’d say if you’re curious about this one it’s worth checking out. I’m not sure if I’d read anything else by Cantero, but then I wouldn’t automatically say “no”, either.