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Never Trust a Dead Man (2000)

by Vivian Vande Velde

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2648101,533 (3.66)3
Wrongly convicted of murder and punished by being sealed in the tomb with the dead man, seventeen-year-old Selwyn enlists the help of a witch and the resurrected victim to find the true killer.

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» See also 3 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Never Trust a Hanged Man is one of the many books that I originally checked out from my local library, but the building isn't big enough for them to keep books that are no longer popular. Luckily, I bought a used copy online this month. It had been so long since I read it that I couldn't remember much of the plot. Did I enjoy rereading it?

17-year-old Selwyn Roewson is a farmer. He lives with his father, Rowe, mother Nelda, and his maternal grandmother. Their village is Penwyth. Rowe is a strong and sturdy man who spent years in the King's Army, but Selwyn is short and slight. Selwyn had spent the summer courting the beautiful Anora, daughter of the village headman, Bowden. Anora chose Farold, nephew and heir of the wealthy Derian Miller, owner of the local flour mill. Selwyn and Farold fought. Selwyn was easily beaten

Now Farold has been found dead. The murder was done Selwyn's distinctive knife while Farold slept. Not even the fact that Selwyn had lost his knife before the murder can save him. Rowe is kept tied to a chair during Farold's burial because the villagers have decided to imprison Selwyn in the village's burial caves. He'll take longer to die than if he were executed.

While Selwyn is left in the dark with the stench of the newer corpses, insects, and bats, he is discovered by an elderly witch named Elswyth. Elswyth came for an ingredient she needs for an important spell. She's willing to help Selwyn, if he will serve her for a year. Selwyn agrees, but winds agreeing to serve her longer if she will bring Farold's ghost back to tell him who killed him. The spell goes wrong (it's Selwyn's fault). Farold's spirit is trapped in the body of one of the bats. Farold is displeased. So is Elswyth, who has a habit of swatting Selwyn when he displeases her.

Selwyn is given seven days to solve the murder before his service starts. He agrees to longer service if Elswyth will use a spell to disguise him. The first disguise does not go well. The second one (yes, more years of service are involved) is more successful. Farold was a real jerk. He's surprised to find out how many enemies he had. Selwyn learns some things about his beloved Anora, as well as the village's second most beautiful girl: Kendra, daughter of the local tavern keeper.

Even though the mystery is solved, there's the matter of those fifteen and a half years of service Selwyn owes Elswyth. Rowe has an idea about how to get his son out of that deal. Will it work? How is Farold to get back to his afterlife? He certainly is as annoying as a tiny bat as he was as a big human.

This is a fun little mystery-fantasy. The characters have their flaws, but I was entertained all over again. ( )
  JalenV | Sep 22, 2022 |
Slight fantasy about a nebbishy, near-stalkery guy who is falsely accused of murdering his romantic rival, locked up to die with said rival’s corpse, and then self-indentured to a witch who promises to help him figure out the real killer in return for years of service. This ends up with the spirit of the dead guy in a bat disguised as a bird, with our hero disguised as a local girl. Basically everybody in it is a creep. ( )
  rivkat | Nov 30, 2018 |

I picked this book up for 75 cents at work! I mean, seriously, how can you beat a new paperback for 75 cents? This book is some fantasy, some mystery, and some laughs. The main character, Slwyn, gets convicted of a crime he didn't commit, and loses his girl, all at the same time - sound familiar? The twist is, the dead man helps to prove his innocence. Yup, the dead man comes back to life, in the form of a bat, and later in the form of a songbird. In the end, the murder's been solved, Selwyn is free to live another day, but doesn't get the girl.

Not bad for a quick read, I give it 3 stars. Worth reading, but I wouldn't bother reading again.
( )
  anastaciaknits | Oct 29, 2016 |
First Selwyn's crush refuses to marry him--and then he's accused of murder! But luckily for Selwyn, he's saved from a slow death by a crotchety old witch. In exchange for years of service to her, she helps him disguise himself to find out who really murdered Farold. And with his disguise firmly in place, Selwyn is discovering some uncomfortable truths about people he thought he knew well...

VVV has a talent for showing us the world through a character's eyes, only to slowly reveal how deeply wrong their assumptions were. She used this to great effect in [b:User Unfriendly|372808|User Unfriendly|Vivian Vande Velde|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1174251587s/372808.jpg|362729], but it works less well here, simply because she takes less time to do it. I don't think VVV earns the plot twists she uses--the reveal with the witch, for instance, was telegraphed from the start but didn't feel probable (even though it is one of my favorite tropes). If I'd spent more time inside Selwyn's head, or if there had been more scenes of interaction between the characters, I would be all over this book. As it is, it seems like a pale imitation of VVV's excellent [b:Dragon's Bait|372807|Dragon's Bait|Vivian Vande Velde|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1174251586s/372807.jpg|1307970]. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Picked this up because I'd heard something good about the author... or maybe her name just stuck with me because it's such a beautiful name.
Anyway, this is a YA fantasy/mystery with a fairytale feel to it.

A young man, Selwyn, is accusing of murdering his rival in love, Farold. The men of the village quickly sentence him to death and seal him up, alive, in a burial cave with the body of his supposed victim. Luckily for him, the cave isn't quite as impenetrable as they believe, and a tricky witch finds Selwyn and makes a bargain with him. He and Farold's spirit, incarnated into the body of a bat, are given a limited amount of time to investigate the village and find the true murderer in order to clear Selwyn's name.

It's not a major work, but it's a quick and entertaining tale.
( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
The sympathetic hero, original humor, sharp dialogue, and surprising plot twists make this read universally appealing and difficult to put down.

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vivian Vande Veldeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Buley, Lori McThomasDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Elwell, TristanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peters, LisaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Gloria and Terry,
whose sense of humor--
as scary as that might seem--
matches mine
First words
For Selwyn Roweson, the morning the villagers turned on him started the way the night before had ended.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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Wrongly convicted of murder and punished by being sealed in the tomb with the dead man, seventeen-year-old Selwyn enlists the help of a witch and the resurrected victim to find the true killer.

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