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Children's Fiction Mysteries & Detective Stories

The Snake Mistake Mystery

The Great Mistake Mysteries

by (author) Sylvia McNicoll

Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
Jan 2018
Mysteries & Detective Stories, Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, Dogs
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jan 2018
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Jan 2018
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 9 to 12
  • Grade: 4 to 7
  • Reading age: 9 to 12


Noble Dog Walking takes care of pets, even if they slither.

When a ball python they’re looking after disappears, Stephen Noble and Renée Kobai join forces with their favourite clients, Jack Russell Ping and greyhound Pong, to find that snake. The local animal shelter proves no help at all. The only thing they care about is their annual cat sale.

It’s starting to look like the ball python may have been stolen, when Stephen and Renée get word that more homes have been broken into, all of them clients of Noble Dog Walking. The case turns desperate as one by one, their clients leave. After losing Ping and Pong as clients, too, Stephen and Renée pin their last hope on gathering all the suspects at the animal shelter, and a real Cat-astrophe ensues.

About the author

Sylvia McNicoll wrote her first book, Blueberries and Whipped Cream, as a project for a college writing course in order to explore a tragedy that occurred in her own high school. She went on to teach creative writing at that same college for nine years, edit a parenting magazine for another eight years and write 29 more novels for a variety of age groups.
Most acclaimed are her three dog guide fostering stories: Bringing Up Beauty, Beauty Returns and A Different Kind of Beauty, which won and were nominated for many children's choice awards. Last Chance for Paris, her adventure book set on the ice fields of Columbia, explored ecological issues with glaciers before climate warming became a popular issue.
Her recent novel, Crush. Candy. Corpse, tells the story about a teen on trial for the manslaughter of an Alzheimer's patient. Reviewers and bloggers have declared it a must read for all high school students. In her thirtieth book Death Goes Viral, already a blockbuster hit in Norway, Sweden and Finland, Sylvia returns to the theme of life and death and the values our own mortality inspires in us.

Sylvia McNicoll's profile page

Excerpt: The Snake Mistake Mystery: The Great Mistake Mysteries (by (author) Sylvia McNicoll)

Day One, Mistake One

The air feels too warm and heavy for October. The dogs don’t even want to walk this morning. It’s like they know something.
“What’s wrong with them, Stephen?” my friend Renée Kobai asks as she drags Ping out the door. He’s the small Jack Russell the Bennetts adopted from the pound, and usually, he sproings out of the house.
“Who cares. They’re coming, anyway.”
The Bennetts pay Noble Dog Walking, my dad’s service, to exercise the dogs for two hours most weekdays. Renée and I work for Dad; we even wear uniforms with the Noble paw print logo. Usually, we take the dogs out for an hour before school and another one after, but today is Saturday. First of a three-day weekend. PA day Monday, yay! Four bonus walks this weekend, morning and afternoon Saturday and Sunday, which means bonus money.
I pull Pong, the Bennetts’ long-legged rescue greyhound, out the door. He usually lopes, more often leading us all. But today Pong picks his way through the dry, brown grass, almost tippy-toe.
Ping, the bouncy Jack Russell, digs in with all his strength, mini donkey–style, the whites of his black eyes showing in slivers.
“Move it, Ping. I mean it!” Renée’s short, like Ping, and his match in stubbornness.
“Come on, boy,” I call softly, feeling a little sorry for him now. “You can’t win against Renée.”
Finally, his paws stutter forward and he scampers to catch up to Pong. We all head for Brant Hills Park.
The sky looks bruised on one side but sunny over the park. For a while, everything seems perfectly quiet; not even a leaf twitches. Except for Mr. Kowalski jogging beside the fence, all hunched over as usual. Kids call him the hundred-year-old jogger. Not me, though; Renée yelled at me when I did. Mr. K coached Renée’s brother, Attila, on his art portfolio and application to Mohawk College. His own paintings are amazing. We have one hanging in our guest room.
We walk along the path up toward the community centre. Maybe we can turn the dogs loose in the tennis court and let them chase a ball.
But then suddenly, the wind blows. Mr. K’s black cap flies off, spins in the air, lands, and cartwheels along the ground. It’s a Frisbee-sized hat, and the words across it spin — Pay the Artist, Pay the Artist, Pay the Artist — into a white blur. Ping makes a break to chase it. I don’t know if Renée lets the leash drop on purpose or not. But I drop Pong’s, too, and he flies toward the cap as well.
We run after them.
Ping snatches up the cap just as Pong catches up to him. Pong opens his long snout and latches on, too. As his teeth sink into it, there’s one frozen moment when I expect it to turn into a big snarl-fest. For sure, when I first started walking them, they would have scrapped over the cap. But today a strange thing happens. Together they carry it back our way. Mr. Kowalski jogs toward us.
“Storm’s coming in,” he says as the bruises close over the sky and the bright part shrinks. The wind bends the smaller trees backward till they look like their trunks will snap. Any rusty, leftover leaves get shaken to the ground and tossed around.
The dogs don’t seem to care about the weather anymore. The cap in their mouths becomes their purpose in life, just like art is to Mr. K. The cap comes within grabbing distance now. “Give it!” I command. Pong lets go. My fingers reach and almost touch the brim when Ping yanks it away. He bows to me, inviting me to play.
“Ping!” I snap my fingers. He freezes for an instant till I reach again, then he dodges.
“No, Ping. Give it.”
Ping shakes the cap like it’s a rodent he wants to kill.
I reach into my pocket for one of Dad’s homemade liver bites.
Ping spits out the cap and sits at attention. Pong joins him, one ear up.
Dad’s treats are magic. Dogs will do anything for them. I give each dog a little brown square and grab the leashes.
Meanwhile, Renée snatches up the cap, her nose scrunching in disgust. “Ew. Dog drool.” She hands the cap back to Mr. Kowalski.
“Thanks. It’s an important hat. Have to remind people, all the time.” Mr. K smiles at the wet cap, shakes it off, and jams it back on his head. He taps his brim in a salute. “Better head for cover.” Then he chugs off like a very slow train.
Renée and I look up at the sky. It hasn’t even been half an hour yet, but the dark side rumbles and throws a yellow pitchfork of lightning at the last tiny patch of brightness.
A few giant raindrops plop onto my hands. “Let’s get out of this,” I call to Renée as I begin to run.
“Too late!” Renée shouts as the drops patter more quickly.
“Hurry.” I keep motoring. The patter turns into a steady drum roll.
Although we run hard back through the park, we can’t escape the downpour and quickly go from moist to soggy to soaked. The dogs turn straight into swamp monsters.
Another rumble from the sky ends with such a loud crack that Renée drops the leash to cover her ears. Ping makes a break for it. Pong gallops after him, dragging me along. I drop my leash, too.
The dogs head for the shortcut between the park and the street. Where the path meets the street, the dogs know better than to cross the road. Smart — that keeps them safe. But it also means they turn left and charge toward my house instead of the Bennetts’. Renée catches up to me.
A few people have decorated for Halloween already but the dogs dash past the bloated straw zombies and assorted tombstones, not even giving them a leg lift. They get to my house way ahead of us. Renée and I are not champion marathon runners.
Lightning zigzags across the sky and another rumble ends with a crack.
“We’re not supposed to bring them in. Mom’s allergies, remember?” I tell Renée.
“I’m not going one step further,” Renée answers. Her sparkly red glasses could use windshield wipers. Her dark hair lies plastered to her scalp. Water drips from her nose. Her uniform clings wet to her, a shade darker than its usual pale khaki.
Ping grumbles and shifts on his paws. Then he jumps up and does a scratch, scratch at the door, ending his grumble in a high-pitched yowl. I unlock it and push it open.

Editorial Reviews

Helps build confidence in young readers by representing an anxious boy overcoming his fear of failure.

Hamilton Spectator

A great series of books … kids will enjoy The Snake Mistake Mystery.

Canadian Materials

Entertaining for readers of all ages.

Book Reviews and More

A good choice for middle graders who enjoy teasing out the red herrings from the clues.

Kirkus Reviews

Other titles by Sylvia McNicoll