NEVER TRUST A DEAD MAN

Murder, magic, salacious secrets, and sparkling wit immediately pull the reader into this engrossing medieval whodunit from Vande Velde (Ghost of a Hanged Man, 1998, etc.). Selwyn, 17, is condemned to death after his rival, Farold, is murdered in his sleep. Overwhelming circumstantial evidence convinces villagers of Selwyn’s guilt, so he is thrown into the burial cave to rot with the corpse. Although his fate seems grim, Selwyn is soon rescued by a hard-bargaining witch, Elswyth. She resurrects Farold’s spirit, frees them both from the cave, disguises them, and allows them one week to find the real murderer in exchange for years and years of Selwyn’s servitude. Hilarious mishaps ensue, as the bickering amateurs search out answers, exposing the villagers’ true colors along the way. The sympathetic hero, original humor, sharp dialogue, and surprising plot twists make this read universally appealing and difficult to put down. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-15-201899-9

Page Count: 193

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1999

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Askew is a compelling, almost shamanistic figure (not another Skellig, but close), and both in tone and locale this powerful...

KIT'S WILDERNESS

Almond (Skellig, 1999) spins teenagers of very different backgrounds and experience into a whirl of ghosts and dreams, stories-within-stories, joy, heartache, and redemption.

In order to be able to care for his newly widowed grandfather, Kit has moved with his parents to the town of Stoneygate, perched in desolate decline on top of a maze of abandoned coal mines. He is soon drawn to follow wild, unstable, aptly named John Askew into a game called “Death” that leaves him sealed up in a tunnel; Kit emerges from the darkness with images of children and others killed in the mines flickering at the edge of his sight, and a strange, deep affinity for Askew. Inspired by Askew’s brutal family life, and gifted with a restless, brilliant imagination, Kit begins a prehistoric quest tale involving two lost children—a story that takes on a life of its own. Setting his tale in a town where the same family names appear on both mailboxes and tombstones, and where dark places are as common as sad memories, Almond creates a physical landscape that embodies the emotional one through which his characters also move, adding an enriching symbolic layer by giving acts and utterances the flavor of ritual.

Askew is a compelling, almost shamanistic figure (not another Skellig, but close), and both in tone and locale this powerful story is reminiscent of Alan Garner’s Stone Book quartet. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: March 7, 2000

ISBN: 0-385-32665-3

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1999

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DEATH ON SACRED GROUND

An interesting but not always successful mix of Jewish and Iroquois/Seneca tradition, custom, and lore form the backdrop for this mystery set in upstate New York. Tenth-grader Aviva “Vivi” Hartman has come with her rabbi father from Buffalo to a small town so that Rabbi Hartman can conduct the funeral of a Jewish high-school girl found dead on sacred Indian ground. It becomes clear before long, however, that the victim, allegedly killed in an accident while on an archery-club outing, was murdered. Vivi passes the time while in town working on a project for a social-studies class back at her own school: following a student around and taking notes about her life and activities. When that student experiences a near-brush with death, Vivi becomes convinced that the girl is the target of a killer trying to hush her up. Did this girl, the school photographer who accompanied the archery club, capture the murder on film? Vivi puts her knowledge of pilpul—the ancient Jewish system of logic used to decipher passages of the Torah—to work and sets about solving the mystery. Meanwhile, the long-simmering relations between a group of white students and some of the Senecas threaten to burst, with members of each group accusing the other of murder and bringing to the fore some lurid details about the victim's and the accused murderer's lives. Feder interweaves details of Jewish and Seneca traditions and ceremonies and is knowledgeable about and respectful of both groups, and the solutions to the murder and another mystery are unexpected, though not entirely plausible. Confirmed mystery readers will probably take to this one, but it's nothing special; characterizations are superficial and the writing is, for the most part, awkward. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8225-0741-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Lerner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2001

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