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Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

Teenage sleuths are all well and good, but what becomes of them when they grow up?  In Edgar Cantero’s “Meddling Kids” we meet the Blyton Summer Detective Club – a group of grown-ups who spent the summers of their formative years solving mysteries in Blyton Hills, Oregon.

Thirteen years ago, they solved their final mystery: the case of the Sleepy Lake monster. Two boys, two girls, and one dog put a man in jail for impersonating a monster and attempting to steal the fortune said to be hidden in a local abandoned mansion. On that fateful night, they solved their case, but the deeper mysteries of the mansion have haunted them ever since.

Now in their mid-twenties, the four members of the Blyton Summer Detective Club have gone their separate ways; they lead broken, unstable lives in various parts of the country:

  • Peter Manner, the leader, moved to Hollywood and became a famous actor, but he was fighting his own demons and killed himself before the action of this book.
  • Nate Rogers, the resident supernatural expert, has spent the intervening years checking himself in and out of mental institutions. He is currently at an institution in Massachusetts, where he is hoping to rid himself of a hallucination of Peter’s ghost.
  • Kerri Hollis, the brains of the group, moved to New York where she works at a bar, plagued by nightmares and unmotivated to finish college.
  • Andrea (Andy) Rodriguez – the muscle – is a vagrant with active warrants out for her in multiple states, and an as-yet-unrequited, decade-old crush on Kerri.
  • Rounding out the group is Kerri’s Weimaraner, Tim, the great-grandson of the original mystery-solving dog.

Andy is convinced that something has cursed them, and that solving the mystery of the abandoned mansion is the only way for them to move on with their lives. She convinces Kerri and Nate to join her, and the three humans, one dog, and one ghost/hallucination make their way to the house in Blyton Hills where everything began.

“Meddling Kids” is a high-energy romp, complete with wacky hijinks and suspicious townspeople. It has mysterious messages, intricate traps, and secret passages. But it is also a horror story with actual monsters for our grown-ups to battle – and an evil force waiting to be set free. It’s Scooby-Doo in the world of Cthulhu.

The story moves forward at break-neck speed; the mystery getting more complicated at every turn. Cantero’s love of pop culture beats at the heart of this book, though some references are more subtle than other – I’m looking at you, Zoinx River.

Cantero bounces back and forth between traditional dialog and movie-script-style dialog (complete with stage directions) in a way that I found compelling. He plays with language throughout the book, making it clear that he had as much fun writing it as the reader does reading it.  I look forward to seeking out more of Edgar Cantero’s work, and I hope that you give “Meddling Kids” at try.

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I Am Behind You by John Ajvide Lindqvist

I’m a horror fan. Well, a lightweight horror fan. I much prefer horror stories I can explain away so I can sleep at night. If I haven’t watched a haunted videotape, the ghost can’t possibly get to me. Right? Right?! So when I heard John Ajvide Lindqvist, author of the vampire novel Let the Right One In, had published a new horror novel called I Am Behind You, I had to give it a read.

On a peaceful morning in the Swedish countryside, four families wake to discover they’ve been transported from their campground to a grassy plain with no landmarks, trees, animals, or cell phone reception. The group, made up of wildly different people, must figure out how to survive long enough to escape. As they try to find a way out, the group discovers that the peaceful countryside they’ve been transported to is full of danger.

Donald is quick-tempered and obsessed with firearms, while his wife Majvor is even-tempered and kind. Will Donald snap and kill someone? Stefan, Carina, and their son Emil appear to be an average family, but Carina’s past haunts her.. Lennart and Olaf are just two guys on a camping trip. They may seem like normal farmers, but there may be more to them than it seems. Finally, Peter, Isabelle, and their daughter Molly certainly seem like the perfect family, but there is something darker underneath. The secrets carried by each group member threaten to destroy everyone.

With no apparent escape available, the group turns to survival. They pool resources and try to explore their surroundings. They begin to encounter strangers in the strange countryside, but you can probably guess that these strangers are dangerous. As with many horror books, it’s difficult to write about the events of the story without spoiling it. The dangers that begin to surface are nothing, however, compared to the dangers the group members pose to each other.

As is also frequently the case, there are questions that simply aren’t answered. Where is the group actually at? How did they get there? What in tarnation is going on?! There’s plenty of content to analyze in any literature course.

Though some aspects of the story didn’t quite hit home, they seemed to stem from cultural differences. For instance, the songs of Peter Himmelstrand feature prominently in this novel. (In fact, the novel’s original title is Himmelstrand.) For whatever reason, the only songs that play on the campers’ radios are songs written by Himmelstrand, who was a popular Swedish songwriter in the 1960s and 70s. Perhaps if I knew more about Himmelstrand and his place in Swedish pop culture, this plot point in the book would make more sense to me.

I still really enjoyed the book. The characters were very well-written; I hated who I was supposed to hate, which is a huge hallmark of effective characterization for me. Perhaps my favorite character is Benny, a beagle. Several portions of the story are told from Benny’s perspective. Lindqvist doesn’t get overly sentimental when writing from the perspective of Benny, which helps make this viewpoint feel more realistic than other fictional animals I’ve read.

A little bit of research revealed that there are two other books that are part of this universe Lindqvist has created. Maybe, if those are translated into English, I’ll get some resolution to the bigger questions I have about what happens throughout the pages of I Am Behind You.

Overall, this was a really good read. I only needed two nights to get through it, which is pretty quick for a book that runs just over 400 pages. If you’re looking for a tense, scary read, I Am Behind You is probably right for you. I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for the translations of the two follow-up books in Lindqvist’s series.

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Book review by: Leslie Hayes