January 19, 2018

The Snake Mistake Mystery: The Great Mistake Mysteries, Book 3

Written by Sylvia McNicoll
Dundurn Press
224 pp.
Ages 9-12
January 2018
But my mind tries to sort through all the details that float through my thoughts: a missing snake, an empty ring box, spray-painted cars, a stolen phone and laptop, a stolen Mr. Universe medal.  What do they have in common? Not Noble Dog Walking. Can't just be Noble Dog Walking. (pg. 89)
As in The Best Mistake Mystery, the first book in Sylvia McNicoll's Great Mistakes Mysteries, there are plenty of mistakes to be made and a new collection of mysteries to be revealed and solved.  And Stephen Noble and best friend Renée Kobai who walk dogs for his father's dog walking company are on it.  If they could just keep Noble Dog Walking from being blamed for all the mishaps, some criminal, happening in their Brant Hills neighbourhood, then Dad wouldn't lose all his clients and he wouldn't have to give up and take on telemarketing from home.  That's a lot of what ifs but Stephen and Renée are an astute pair of twelve-year-olds who take note of much in their neighbourhood: suspicious vehicles, coincidences, human and animal behaviour. If anyone can solve all the mysteries within The Snake Mistake Mystery, they can.

When a powerful storm hits, Stephen is instructed by his flight attendant mom to check on King, the pet of a new neighbour.  But with a power outage, Stephen and Renée are delayed and by the time they access the house via a hidden key, they find the ball python gone. When the kids return to Stephen's, they learn Mrs. Irwin, the owner of five Yorkies, has accused Noble Dog Walking of leaving her door unlocked and allowing the theft of a Mr. Universe gold medal while Mr. Mason, a former client, claims his cell phone and laptop disappeared because they still had a key to his house. Knowing none of these crimes have anything to do with them, Stephen is determined to find the culprit, hoping to solve the mystery, plus a few more, while he and Renée determine how to locate and capture a missing snake.

At every turn around the neighbourhood, there is something else either going amiss or being revealed.  With a motley band of neighbours–their techie friend Reuven; Renée's brother Attila and his girlfriend Star, both taggers; artists Mr. Kowalski and Mrs. Irwin; Principal Watier and her love interest Mr. Sawyer; skateboarders Serge Watier and Red; Mr. Mason; the Bennetts; Mr. Ron and his mother; the wacky Janet Lacey of the Burlington Animal Shelter; neighbourhood patrol Mr. Rupert–there are plenty of suspects for the crimes and just as many red herrings.  Add to that an assortment of canine friends, including leads Ping, a Jack Russell, and Pong, a greyhound, and The Snake Mistake Mystery is a whodunit with a colourful cast and entertaining riddles. Fortunately, like the multiple leads of a professional dog walker, the plot lines may get twisted but there is much satisfaction when all are straightened out.

While Sylvia McNicoll writes superb young adult fiction (e.g., Crush. Candy. Corpse., 2012; Dying to Go Viral, 2013; Best Friends Through Eternity, 2015), with strong characters and intriguing plots, her middle-grade fiction is outstanding, giving readers fun adventures, compelling mysteries and real characters.  She knows what will get readers interested and she delivers.  And did I mention the bounty of animals that round out the cast of The Snake Mistake Mystery?  Of course there are the dogs of the Noble Dog Walking, both current and former clients, but there are lots of cats up for adoption, mice as bait and pets, and a ball python.  In fact, while Sylvia McNicoll makes reference to snakes in the news, it is her attribution of Stephen and Renée having read Snake in My Toilet that is wonderful and deeply personal. I can't think of a nicer way to honour her dear friend and author Gisela Tobien Sherman who passed away unexpectedly last year.  She'd probably be chuffed to know her snake found a place with that of Sylvia McNicoll's in an adventure in which middle-graders succeed where adults mess up.
The Great Mistake Mysteries


There's a short video that was uploaded just days ago to celebrate the release of The Snake Mistake Mystery.  It features a reading by author Sylvia McNicoll and her own Mortie, the model for the book's Ping. Do check it out (as well as Sylvia McNicoll's cool Jack Russell pin)!
Uploaded on January 14, 2018 by Sylvia McNicoll to YouTube.


  1. Thank you Helen for this beautiful review. You do so much for Canadian Kids Lit. You may be happy to know that Gisela Sherman was alive and had heard the chapter mentioning her book Snake in my Toilet when I read it out loud for our mutual writing group. The backstory on that was that it was originally released by Simon Schuster as an MG called There's a Snake in the Toilet and sold very well. When it went out of print, I suggested she pare it down for HIP Paul Kropp's series of reluctant readers. Paul was the writing teacher who launched both our careers. Lots of great memories together. The Snake Mistake Mystery was dedicated to Gisela only after she died. A big regret. Should have dedicated many books to her while she was alive.

    1. That’s a wonderful story, Sylvia. I’m so glad you were able to share yours with Gisela. I’m sure it was just icing on your friendship.