Scholefield's villain is a big fat mamba from Africa, and a gleaming black phantom she is as she glides through the heating ducts of a posh London home. Little Philip, only ten and an asthmatic shut-in, thinks he's getting a plain black housesnake for his menagerie, but a mixup in shipping labels has directed the killer into his house. And this on the very day he's being kidnapped by the phony servants. When Louise, the ""maid,"" is bitten while opening the newly arrived snake box (she thinks there's a nasty gerbil in there) and falls into backbreaking convulsions, the kidnap plot is bolloxed and becomes a hostage drama in the police-surrounded house while the mamba roams the shadows in search of heat (the special heating ducts carry vapor everywhere to fight Philip's asthma). Scholefield knows his snake and is just as cagey in drawing his human villains--even the police are keenly etched. If you are at all prone to fearful clutchings when slither noises are heard, Do Not Read this aboundingly snakey book in the middle of the night--or, if you do, keep all the lights on.