________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 35. . . May 19, 2017


The Best Mistake Mystery. (The Great Mistake Mysteries, Book 1).

Sylvia McNicoll.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 2017.
155 pp., trade pbk., epub & PDF, $8.99 (pbk.), $7.99 (epub), $8.99 (PDF).
ISBN 978-1-4597-3625-2 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4597-3626-9 (epub), ISBN 978-1-4597-3627-9 (PDF).

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4


The Artsy Mistake Mystery. (The Great Mistake Mysteries, Book 2).

Sylvia McNicoll.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, July, 2017.
202 pp., trade pbk., epub & PDF, $8.99 (pbk.), $7.99 (EPUB), $8.99 (PDF).
ISBN 978-1-4597-3880-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4597-3882-9 (epub), ISBN 978-1-4597-3881-2 (PDF).

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4



At three o'clock in the afternoon the fire alarm jangles. Mrs. Worsley's arms startle open like a bird's wings, but she quickly folds them back down across her chest, hiding her hands in her armpits. Her woolly eyebrows knit and her mouth purls.

"I've taught here for thirty years," she told us on the first day of school. "There's nothing you can do will shock me."

But on day thirty, this alarm takes her by surprise. Drills are always planned, which can only mean one thing.

I leap from my seat, wave my arms and shout, "Fire! Fire!"

No one moves.

Mrs. Worsley's left eye twitches as she reaches up to grab my shoulders I'm taller than she is and squeezes gently, "Stephen Noble, calm down." (From
The Best Mistake Mystery.)


From the tree in Mrs. Whittingham's yard, a yellow plastic swing moves slightly in the breeze.

It looks like there's something sitting in it, too big for a bird or a squirrel, bigger than a raccoon ... oh no ... she's left a kid behind in the swing!

The little boy looks paper white with purple circles under his eyes ... like he's, like he's .. but he can't be; she only left a minute ago.

I run with the dogs to her house, dash up her lawn, bashing my knee on some stupid bird ornament. Ow. Then I grab for the boy in the swing. I think I've seen enough rescue videos that I can use CPR to bring him back to life if I have to.

That is ... if it's not too late.

"Hey, you! What the heck are you doing!" A voice blasts from behind me. (From
The Artsy Mistake Mystery.)


On the radio recently, I heard an interview with a woman who used animal therapy to help kids cope with their anxieties. Stephen is one of those kids Anxious with a capital A and he, too, has coping strategies, some of which involve animals. This isn't too surprising since his father, who recently retired from his job as an air traffic controller because of the high stress levels, has opened a dog walking business. They also both knit, though Stephen's stitches are always 'way too tight, whereas his father is prepared to take on knitting a set of five jackets for his five Yorkshire terrier clients.

     Stephen has two other methods of coping. The first of these is to regard each day as a series of mistakes, mostly his, punctuating his existence. Perhaps it is lucky that each of the books covers only three days plus an aftermath! Over the two books (and, therefore, six days), there are an average of ten mistakes per day. Stephen's other coping mechanism, one which his father does not share, is taking careful note of everything that is happening around him at all times. Things that would not usually be considered significant, he sees, correlates, and manages to turn into coherent case facts that initially seemed random. In The Best Mistake Mystery, for example, he sees how the driverless orange VW managed to crash into the school and why the new principal had her house festooned with toilet paper. In The Artsy Mistake Mystery, it's who was taking bits from the public art displays exhibited around town, and why. In both books, Stephen's reasoning manages to get the brother of his new friend and dog walking assistant, Renée, off the hook, and keep him out of jail.

     These mysteries are fun, in spite of their “Anxious” moments. Who hasn't occasionally been looking after something dog, cat, child and had it disappear for a moment, five minutes, an hour? Who hasn't done something perhaps just a bit foolish and gotten away with it? Or not gotten away with it? Our sympathies are definitely with Stephen in these moments, but we tend to get a bit blown away by the intelligence with which he manages to sort out clues that we may not even have recognized as such. McNicoll has written a lot of good books; these two are another pair for that list, and I eagerly await the third. What dreadful thing can Attila (Renée's brother) be suspected of next that he could all too plausibly have done? But (of course!) hasn't.

     I have one small quibble, and it is not with the books, but with the covers. Both are diagrammatic maps covering different quadrants of the town, one east and one south east of the school. However, where they overlap, at the school, the streets do not correspond! It's enough to give the reader an Anxious Moment.

     To be continued in book three of “The Great Mistake Mysteries”.


Mary Thomas lives, and works occasionally, in Winnipeg, MB, and loves a good mystery novel.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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