Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Best Mistake Mystery

The Best Mistake Mystery
by Sylvia McNicoll
Recommended Ages: 10+

Stephen Noble is a Canadian middle-schooler with a wee worrying problem. For example, he worries a lot about his flight attendant mother being in an airplane crash. He worries that he may not be ready to help his stay-at-home dad run his dog-walking and dog-treat-baking business. But his worries come packaged with an active inner life, and that also makes him the ideal kid to solve a mystery in his neighborhood. A mystery is what he gets, starting one day when school is canceled due to a bomb threat. This escalates to somebody crashing a classic VW Beetle into the school.

Then Stephen starts getting threatening texts on his cellphone, warning him to "M.Y.O.B." (mind your own business). Finally, one of the dogs he has been watching while its owners are out of town is dog-napped and held for ransom. He is afraid to tell his dad, who would certainly involve the police, lest the dognapper carry out his threat to hurt Ping the greyhound (loyal companion to Pong the Jack Russell terrier). So he takes sleuthing into his own hands, aided by a brainy girl named Renee, whose brother Attila (I kid you not) has already been charged with the crimes.

Stephen isn't sure Attila is innocent, but he has other suspects as well - ranging from the school's ex-custodian, who had a romantic breakup with the principal, to a mason whose very distinctive style of brick was found at the scene of one of the crimes. Meantime, he investigates these strange happenings in his own goofy, worry-wart way: one mistake at a time, adding up to dozens of mistakes by the end of the story (and, being the type of kid he is, he keeps a running count of his mistakes).

As narrators go, Stephen is a funny, down-to-earth, convincingly real kid. I particularly loved his reply when the dognapper demanded payment of a ransom - something like, "Do you take debit?" He cares about people and dogs in a way that draws the reader's sympathy to him. In his weakness, he is believable; in his honesty, he is lovable; and in his triumph, he lends encouragement to children of all ages.

This is the first book of the "Great Mistake" series; it already has a sequel, titled The Artsy Mistake Mystery. The author's website lists both books as being published in 2016, though according to Amazon (U.S.) and NetGalley (which sent me the pre-publication Kindle proof on which this review is based), this book is scheduled for release March 28, 2017. Sylvia McNicoll is one-third of a group of Canadian authors who, in the late 1990s, wrote the 12-book "Stage School" series under the collective pseudonym Geena Dare. Her other titles include Project Disaster, The Tiger Catcher's Kid, Blueberries and Whipped Cream, A Different Kind of Beauty, Dying to Go Viral, Dog on Trial, and Revenge on the Fly, among others.

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