When Selwyn, a farmer, is accused of murdering his rival, Farold, he is sealed in the village burial cave with Farold’s moldering corpse to await starvation—or worse. Worse comes along quickly in the form of a witch who raises Farold from the dead. Selwyn thought he disliked Farold when he was alive, but that was nothing compared to working by the dead man’s side as they search for the real killer.
“Murder, magic, salacious secrets, and sparkling wit immediately pull the reader into this engrossing medieval whodunit . . . universally appealing and difficult to put down.” —Kirkus Reviews
“A tongue-in-cheek medieval farce and a supernatural mystery.” —Library Journal
“An entertaining book that will attract both fantasy and mystery readers.” —Booklist
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
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|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Vivian Vande Velde has written many books for teen and middle grade readers, including Heir Apparent, User Unfriendly, All Hallow's Eve: 13 Stories, Three Good Deeds, Now You See It ..., and the Edgar Award–winning Never Trust a Dead Man. She lives in Rochester, New York. Visit her website at www.vivianvandevelde.com.
Read an Excerpt
For Selwyn Roweson, the morning the villagers turned on him started the way the night before had ended: He and his father were removing tree stumps from the bit of land they hoped to plant as an additional field next spring. "Because even if you won't be marrying Anora after all," his father had said, "you'll be getting married sometime, and you'll be needing the extra land."
Selwyn was inclined to think his father hoped that pulling and hacking at stubborn tree stumps would be enough to drive Anora from Selwyn's mind — which just went to show how simple parents could be about certain matters.
"Besides," his father told him, "a wispy little town girl isn't right for farm life. What you need to find yourself is a big, sturdy woman."
"Big?" repeated Selwyn, barely able to spare the breath as he wielded the ax at one of the tree roots, sending wood chips flying onto his clothes and into his hair. "Sturdy?" He himself was of a small build — and, at seventeen years old, not likely to gain much more height or breadth. The last thing he wanted was a wife bigger and stronger than he was. "Are we talking about a wife or a pair of oxen?"
"Well," his father said, as though giving the matter due consideration, "of course, that would be your choice. Oxen are very good at removing tree stumps. On the other hand, their after-dinner conversation is generally mediocre at best, and they can hardly dance at all. Maybe, instead, you could find a girl who's big and sturdy, but not too big and sturdy."
Selwyn laughed, though mostly with relief that the ax blade had finally split the root.
He put down the ax and picked up the shovel.
The day was unseasonably warm, being that time of year when the autumn leaves have fallen but the winter snow has not, and Selwyn's shirt stuck wetly to his back. He paused, straightening, for a moment's rest and to blow his hair out of his eyes.
That was when he saw the villagers approaching.
"Father," he said, never for a moment mistaking their intention to be to help dig up tree stumps, for several carried staffs or clubs, and all looked grim.
The last of the smile faded from his father's face, but his voice was jovial as he called out to the dozen or fifteen men approaching. "What is it? What's wrong? Tell me we're not at war again."
It was a reasonable query, for — of all of them — only Selwyn's father had gone away to be in the king's army, which was how he came so late to marrying that he was almost fifty years old with a son of seventeen. The villagers had turned to him before for help with soldiers that had crossed the border, or with bandits raiding on the road to Saint Hilda's, or — once — with two feuding wizards who nearly leveled Orik's tavern trying to settle their differences.
But his father didn't think this was the case; Selwyn could tell the lightness in his voice was forced.
And any lingering doubts were ended when Thorne, who was in the lead, called back, "Put down the shovel, Rowe."
Which was such an odd thing to say no matter why they were here that Selwyn felt a flutter of dread in the pit of his stomach even though Thorne was their neighbor and had farmed the land nearest theirs for longer than Selwyn had been alive.
His father, who before that had had no reason to hold on to his shovel, looked at Thorne and the oncoming crowd appraisingly. He jammed the shovel into the pile of dirt he and Selwyn had dug up from around the latest stump's roots, and rested his arm on top of the handle, where it was still in ready reach.
The villagers stopped, five or six paces away. A shovel's length away.
"Step over here, boy," said Linton, the miller's nephew, though Selwyn didn't yet know the significance of that.
"Stay," Selwyn's father ordered, as though Selwyn had no sense at all.
"We just want to talk to him," Thorne said.
"Fine. Talk," Selwyn's father said. "His hearing's good."
Thorne met his stare for several long moments. Then he said, "Farold's dead. Murdered last night in the mill."
Farold was another of Derian Miller's nephews, Linton's cousin. Selwyn was shocked that someone had been murdered in their quiet community, but not dismayed that it was Farold. Relieved, in fact, that it was Farold and no one else. Pleased, if truth be told, that if it had to happen to someone, it had happened to Farold. But he knew not to let any such thing show on his face. He tried to think nice thoughts only. Farold wasn't all that bad, exactly, he told himself. Farold was better than ... Well, he was better than sitting down on a tack. He was better than breaking a tooth on a peach pit.
His father asked, "What makes you think Selwyn did it?" So much for nice thoughts. Though, in truth, it was the only reason they could be here, looking the way they looked. How could they think he'd kill someone — even obnoxious, swaggering Farold? But Thorne was staring right at him, finally addressing him and not his father, asking him, "Did you?"
It took several tries to get his voice to work. "No," he said, amazed that Thorne — who had known him all his life — could even ask with a straight face.
"Well then," Thorne said reasonably.
That couldn't possibly be it, Selwyn knew. They couldn't have marched all this way from Penryth just to turn around and walk back at a single-word declaration of innocence.
"We were all here," Selwyn's father told them. "Last night, you say? We were right here, all four of us, all night — me, the boy, his mother, and his grandmother. We'll all vouch for him."
That caused a shiver down his back, which Selwyn tried to disguise as brushing away a fly. He crossed his arms over his chest defiantly.
"Fine," Thorne said. "Come back to the village, explain everything to Bowden. See if there's anything you know that can possibly help us determine who did kill him."
The faces beyond Thorne didn't look quite so convinced, so reasonable.
"I've just explained to you," his father said. "And as for the rest: Any number of people would be glad to have Farold dead." He looked right at Linton then, which could have been by way of apology for speaking ill of the dead in front of relatives, or it could have been to remind everyone that Linton was one who had to gain from Farold's death — for now he would be the rich but elderly miller's closest surviving kinsman.
Linton spit on the ground, looking as though he'd prefer to spit at them.
Thorne said, "Look, Rowe, let Selwyn come with us to explain for himself. Bowden is a reasonable man. But his daughter is weeping and carrying on ..."
Bowden. That was Anora's father, and it was because of Anora that he was being accused, Selwyn knew. All summer he and Farold had vied for Anora's attention and affection, and in the end Anora had chosen Farold. The two youths had fought, two weeks ago, in the street, in front of everyone. Well, more accurately, Selwyn had tried to fight, and Farold — bigger, taller, stronger — had dumped him unceremoniously into the rubbish heap as though Selwyn were about ten years old, much to the entertainment of the bystanders. So now, apparently, everyone thought he had carried the fight further.
"The girl accuse him?" Selwyn's father asked, for he had never thought much of Anora. Selwyn was shocked at the idea.
"No," Thorne said. "I told you, it happened at night: Nobody saw anything. Derian didn't hear anything, what with the noise of the waterwheel and being half deaf as he is. It looks like the murderer climbed in through the window. Let the boy come and talk, Rowe. Settle this now. Do you think you're helping, acting this way?"
Finally — and Selwyn felt both relieved and terrified about it — his father nodded and stepped away from the shovel.
"Good," Thorne told him. "Fine. Now go up to the house and tell Nelda and her mother you'll be back by supper." Linton, and two or three of the others, looked ready to protest, but Thorne nodded encouragement and said, "Go on."
Selwyn's father put his arm around Selwyn's shoulder, and the two of them turned toward the house.
Whereupon they were leaped on from behind.
Selwyn hit the ground hard, facedown in the dirt with no time to get his hands up to break the fall. Somebody had a knee on the back of his neck and was yelling, "Get his hands, get his hands!"
Selwyn's hands were pulled behind his back, and someone had rope, which proved that Thorne-of-all-the-fine-reasonable-words was a liar and had been planning something like this all along.
The majority of them had gone after his father: How many men does it take to bring down a too short, too skinny seventeen-year-old who's only ever been in one fight — and lost it? But there were so many men piled up on his father, Selwyn couldn't even see him. Still, he was all right, he must have been, for Selwyn heard him cursing.
"Rowe," Thorne said, "I swear: You give us any trouble and I'll let them go ahead and club you on the head, and we'll drag you back. Selwyn's fine." Thorne looked to check only after he'd already said it, trustworthy friend that he was. "We just don't want either of you doing anything foolish. Rowe." Still Selwyn's father struggled. "Rowe."
In the end, they took the rags Selwyn and his father had wrapped around the shovel handles and used these as gags for both of them, replacing the taste of dirt in Selwyn's mouth with the taste of sweat and dirt.
Above the gag, his father's eyes looked frightened, and that was the worst thing of all, because Selwyn had never seen his father frightened before.
Selwyn was dragged to his feet and given a shove that wasn't as rough as it could have been — or as gentle — in the direction of the village. What about his mother, he worried, who would come looking for them when they didn't return for the noon meal?
He stopped, digging his feet into the road, anxiously looking back the way they'd come. Somebody smacked him on the back of the head, hard enough to make his knees go weak. At the same time he was shoved again. But someone grabbed him to keep him upright. They kept him walking.CHAPTER 2
In the village, everyone was gathered around the house of Bowden, the headman. As many people as could fit were jammed inside, with the overflow in his yard and in the street. It was noisier than a feast day.
Thorne pushed his way indoors. Most of those who'd gone to fetch Selwyn were able to squeeze their way in, though that suddenly forced outside others who'd been there before them.
Anora, as Thorne had said, was weeping loudly, her normally lovely face puffy and red-splotched from tears. As soon as she saw Selwyn, she threw her apron up over her head — the only privacy she could get with everyone watching her — and she began rocking back and forth on her stool. People jabbed each other with their elbows and pointed. Derian the miller, the dead man's uncle, patted her leg and said, "There, there," and glared at Selwyn.
"We brought them," Linton announced, hardly necessary with everybody staring already. "They gave us some trouble." This was something else people could see for themselves, with the two of them bound and gagged, and their clothes all torn and askew, and Selwyn's father's right cheek turning purple from someone's knuckles. But Linton always tried to make himself important. He was the kind of man who would say, "Sure is raining hard," in case you hadn't noticed. And if you had, and you answered, "Yes, I can see," Linton would try to convince you that it rained hardest of all over his house.
Bowden had a fire going, an extravagance on such a warm day. But he liked to show off that he was the wealthiest man in the village, even if his house had only one room, just like everybody else's. Still, Selwyn couldn't have been the only one to find it hard to catch a fresh breath, with the wood burning and the closeness of all those people.
Bowden stood, slowly, and asked Thorne, rather than Selwyn, "So what's the boy's story?"
Why did everybody keep talking around him?
"Home all night with his family," Thorne answered with a slight shrug that could mean anything.
Selwyn thought at him: Your long nose and bright eyes make you look like a rat. This was the first time in all those years of knowing him that Selwyn thought this. Bowden, he decided, was like a bull — lazy but dangerous.
Bowden turned those lazy, dangerous eyes on Selwyn's father, who was raging incoherently into his gag and struggling as though to burst his bindings. He asked him, "Supper till sunup: You willing to assure everybody there's no way your boy could have gotten out of the house in the dead of night, with everybody asleep?" His father nodded vigorously, but Bowden continued, "You generally keep a guard on the door, to make sure he doesn't let himself out to get into mischief?" to which there was no good answer, yes or no.
His father began talking into his gag again. Nobody could make out his words, but then Selwyn guessed Bowden was more interested in appearing clever than in learning facts.
"Now, Rowe," Bowden said, "nobody's accusing you of having a hand in this. Everybody knows there were bad feelings between Selwyn and Farold over my Anora."
Anora, who'd finally come out from under her apron, hid her face once more.
Bowden continued, "Young men and hot blood — we've all seen it before. I blame myself, partly, for not seeing it coming, for not forcing Anora to make her choice faster. Still, once she chose Farold, that should have been the end of it. But Selwyn wouldn't leave it at that. We all saw the fight Selwyn provoked in Orik's tavern. And once Farold beat him in that, too ..." Bowden shook his head mournfully as though to say violence wearied him, though he'd been one of the onlookers that day, laughing and cheering, not caring who was the victor, just happy for the entertainment. "Of course, he was humiliated, only stands to reason. And it only stands to reason you want to protect him, him being your only boy and all. But, Rowe, this was no hot-tempered accident: Selwyn came up on Farold in the middle of the night, stabbed him while the man was asleep. Somebody that would do that ..." Again Bowden shook his head meaningfully. "A temper like that, why, there's no telling what might set it off again."
"No!" Selwyn cried into his gag, shaking his head for emphasis in case anyone had any doubt as to what he was saying.
"Why not take the boy's gag off?" someone in the room recommended. "Hard to get a sensible answer out of him otherwise."
"Just the boy's," Bowden said.
The gag came out, leaving Selwyn's mouth foul and dry. "I didn't do it," he protested. "Yes, I was angry that Anora chose Farold. But I didn't hate him enough to kill him." Farold wasn't all that bad, Selwyn once again forced himself to think, as though this generous thought could prove his innocence. Farold wasn't as bad as a runny nose when you were trying to impress a girl. Farold wasn't as bad as a case of hives on your bottom.
Bowden narrowed his eyes. "You're not saying it's Anora's fault for choosing Farold over you?" he said.
That was all Selwyn needed — to have Bowden fearing he'd go after Anora. Why couldn't the man ask simple questions with straightforward answers? "No," he said. "I'm saying I didn't kill Farold."
Derian chose then to say, "Farold was always a good boy," which, in other circumstances, Selwyn might have disputed. Which, in other circumstances, a lot of people might have disputed. Still, with Derian, one could never be certain how much of a conversation he actually heard. But the old miller was the one who had raised Farold, whose parents had died young. So if he was distracted, there was grief as well as deafness to account for it.
Bowden gestured to someone who was standing closer to the table. An object was picked up and passed from hand to hand. "Recognize this?" Bowden asked.
Selwyn thought surely his heart was going to stop. "I — I — I —" Of course he recognized the distinctive long-handled knife — it was his own. It was a coming-of-age gift from his father, who had brought it back from his time of service in the war, and not another like it in the village. "I lost it, about the time of the harvest." He glanced anxiously around the room. "Raedan" — he had spotted one friendly face, then another — "Merton. You remember I lost it. I looked around everywhere. I kept asking if anyone found it."
"Aye," Raedan said readily, and his brother Merton was nodding, too.
Selwyn turned to Thorne — even if he did look and act like a rat — whose word should count for more, not being one of his age-mates.
And Thorne did say, "I remember."
But Bowden said, "Harvesttime was when Anora first told you she'd chosen Farold. Your conveniently losing your blade at that time shows just how long you've been planning this."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Never Trust a Dead Man"
Copyright © 1999 Vande Velde, Vivian.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is guaranteed to make anyone laugh. Selwyn has been accused of murdering his rival, Farold. He asks a witch to raise Farold from the dead so Farold can say who killed him. Only one problem. Farold does not know either. Now these two enemies must work together to find Farold's killer and clear Selwyn's name. This is a mystery that pulls you in from the start and won't let go. It is full of laughs and even more suspects than the two teens realize. Never Trust a Dead Man moves fast so there is no chance of boredom.
I really like this book because it has a suspenseful mystery about murder. The mystery about Farold being found dead with a knife in his back and it was Selwyn's dagger and Selwyn is blamed for the murder. The book was very good because I couldn,t put it down until I fell asleep. I recommend this book to book to anyone who is interested in mystery and medieval times. I wouldn,t say there is any other book I have in mind that it better than this one. If I had to chose between this book and another one I would chose never trust a dead man. My rateing for this book is Six out of ten. Maybe others think so too.
Selwyn, a teenage boy went through the worst experience of his life. He was accused of killing his friend, Farold. There was evidence that Selwyn killed Farold because Selwyn¿s knife was found in Farold¿s back. Selwyn didn¿t really do it, but the committee of the community decides to put him in a cave where all the dead people are put including Farold. Luckily Selwyn didn¿t get executed, but he was bound to die from starvation in a few days. Selwyn¿s somewhat savior, Elswyth opens the cave up one day. She was going to do some spells on the dead and she found Selwyn still alive in the cave. Elswyth tells Selwyn that he must do labor for her saving him. The labor would take one year to pay off! Selwyn asked Elswyth to let him talk to his family and tell them that he¿s not dead. He also asked her to bring Farold back to life to find out who really killed Farold. For these favors done by Elswyth, she charged Selwyn many more years of hard labor done for her. Selwyn keeps giving in and the years of labor keep building up. To talk to his family, Selwyn has to be disguised like someone else so no one knows he¿s still alive. To make the disguises Elswyth charges more years and it seems never ending. Will he ever get out of this mess? Well you¿ll have to read the book yourself to find out. I really enjoyed this book and liked how the author, Vivian Vande Velde, expressed her thoughts about the events that happen. This made the book a lot more interesting to read and this is the first time in awhile that I wanted to keep reading a book. The only thing I didn¿t like about this book is the names were quite awkward and I¿m still not sure how to pronounce them. I really got wrapped up in this book and it seemed as if I were actually there. This is definitely a must read book for young adults no matter what kind of books you like. I¿d say there are several big words in this book so I¿d recommend this book to someone from the ages thirteen and up. This book won the Edgar Allan Poe Award in 2000 for the best mystery. This is a must read!
Read this for the May fiction review committee in Peel. Selwyn Roweson is accused of murdering Faldor by the villagers, and found guilty after three pieces of evidence make him the logical suspect. First of all, Faldor and Selwyn both vied for the attention of Anora, but she chose to marry Faldor, secondly the knife found in Faldor's back happens to belong to Selwyn, and thirdly, when questioned about his whereabouts on the night of the murder, he lies and says he was home in bed, and then someone steps forward and reveals that he was seen close to Faldor's house. After hearing this, Selwyn recants his story, but by then it is too late, and he is sentenced to being sealed inside the burial cave with the dead man, and all the other bodies who have been buried there. How Selwyn survives and then tries to prove his innocence makes up the rest of a very entertaining story.
It was not really not a fun story but it can be a litte scary
Never Trust a Dead man is the story of a boy named Sewlyn, who is fighting against Farold (the town bully) for the attention and love of one girl. After being humiliated by the hands of Farold in front of the tevern, Sewlyn finds himself heart broken. But when Farold is found murdered everybody assumes Sewlyn is the guilty party. Basically thinking he did it out of a jealous rage. The town¿s people come together and convict Sewlyn of this crime. His punishment is to be placed in the tomb with the victim (Farold). While in the tomb, he recieves help form two unlikely people, a witch and the now resorrected Farold. With their assistance Sewlyn sets out to find the true killer. I really enjoyed this book because it kept me on my toes. The mystery was finding out who or what was next. Not only was it a mystery, but it had a lot of comic relief. Whenever Sewlyn, Farold and the with was together something funny was bound to happen. The best thing about the story was the fact that I felt like I was part of the story, therefore I didn¿t want to put the book down so that I could find out who the killer was.
this book was great!!!!i really loved it b/c of it's humor and the story was very good!!! when selwyn gets turned into a girl it's hilarious!!! even though he's in a girl's body he acts so much like a boy and the witch is very funny b/c she hits selwyn with her stick all the time!!!it's a very good book with a good ending and a good mystery!
I got the book Never Trust a Dead Man out of the school libraray when I had nothing else to read. I started to read it and got HOOKED. I couldn't put it down, which got me into trouble with my teachers. I felt so sorry for poor Selwyn, always getting hit on the head by a witch and being stuck with his dead rival. Farold seemed to be kind of a meanie, but you do have to feel sorry for him, being murdered and all. For the first time, I didn't know who dunnit. This book is wonderful and contains twists and turns right up to the last page. All of my friens wanted to read this book. Because of the title, I thought that maybe Farold was bad, but he wasn't. I loved the character Elswyth, and she ended up being really nice. Read this book!
^^ Haha. At first, you would think it was kinda creepy by seeing the title on the spine, but then by chance, reading the back...well, I did, and it turned out comical. Poor Selwyn--all the things you gotta love to hate happens to him unfortunately. One, a witch that smacks his head a lot--two, he gets stuck with his long time rival person who turns out dead, and develops a strange friendship, and three--he finds out that an idiot blonde girl he liked happened to be evil. You could tell the last one since the first page. But you gotta admit, the smacking on head thing is a classic that no one really uses in books, ever. ^^ Adds to the story well. Especially coming from a weird witch who doesn't have to be good or evil or anything.
Never Trust a Dead Man This book, Never Trust a Dead Man was very amazing and Very fantastic. If you check this book out it¿s mysterious Power will make you read it over and over again. I liked this book because it has a great plot the other thing I Liked about this book is how the Author wrote the book. Instead off writing this book like any other mystery book The Author wrote about a mystery-Horror-Comedy about Love and life after death. This book is about mystery Because it is a murder situation where a guy name Farold Is murdered the villagers accused one of his enemies Selwyn of killing him. This was because Selwyn¿s knife Was used to kill the victim. This book is about love Because Selwyn and farold loved the same girl name Anora. This book is also about life after death. Farold Was dead and brought back to life by a witch named Elswyth. If you are interested in mystery books, read Never Trust A Dead Man. Interested in finding out who the real killer is Read Never Trust A Dead Man.
This book was great! I definately recommend this book to anyone! It was hard to follow at the beginning, but as you read on it was easier to understand! It's about a boy named David who goes to live with his Aunt, Uncle and Cousin Lily in Camberidge, Mass. David lives in the upstairs attic, and at night he sees his dead cousin Kathy's ghost. He learns just how weird his relatives are, and what secrets they have hidden. This book was so good I could hardly put it down! If you haven't read this book, I suggest you do!
Never Trust a Dead Man is a highly entertaining, humorous and original. An intriguing mystery. Vivian Vande Velde has written a tight knit mystery, with a host of characters¿most of them suspects. With puzzle pieces all over the place, I could not wait to finish the tale to see what the final picture displayed.
Selwyn is a young man, working the farmland with his father when a mob from the village shows up. Selwyn has been accused of murdering Farold. The villagers have all the proof they need. Both had been courting beautiful Anora. Recently, Anora chose Farold to marry. Perhaps embarrassed, Selwyn started a fight with Farold, in which Farold won. To make matters worse, it was Selwyn¿s knife found at the murder scene.
Selwyn, in front of a Star Chamber proceeding, is sentenced to be sealed with Farold¿s corpse in the community burial. Thought to be doomed, Selwyn cannot believe when he encounters a witch. With hasty promises made, the witch agrees to help Selwyn out of the tomb. She also agrees to bring Farold back, so he can tell Selwyn who the true murderer is. The spell goes awry and Farold is returned as a bat. Worse, he does not know who killed him.
Promising to serve the witch as a slave for many years, Selwyn and Farold set out to find the killer and to let Selwyn¿s family know that he is all right. The witch, for a price, provides the two with disguises. Selwyn has only one week to solve the crime before he must return to repay his dent to the witch.
Never Trust a Dead Man is just full of laugh-out-loud bantering dialogue, hilarious situations and an insistent sense of urgency to figure out who is responsible for killing Farold. This is a spry and witty, a solid mystery. Vivian Vande Velde is quickly becoming my favorite young adult novelist.
--Phillip Tomasso III, author of Third Ring, Tenth House & Mind Play
This book is so great....I really love reading. I have read a lot of books and this has been my favorite one. I also bought a book that vivian vande velde wrote. Titled 'curse.inc.' that book is also great.good thing i bought it cause i was reading it so many times.
I read this book for my 8th grade summer reading book and i truly enjoyed this mystery.... The best part of the mystical medieval mystery is that every one is a suspect and that the main character (Selwyn) can not trust anybody. I definetly reccomend this book to enthusiastic rea