cover image Magic Can Be Murder

Magic Can Be Murder

Vivian Vande Velde, Vivian Vande Veld. Harcourt Children's Books, $17 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-15-202665-3

Vande Velde's (The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, reviewed above) fairy tale-like novel set once upon a time features two witches, 17-year-old Nola and her mother. The pair works for hire at odd jobs, and Nola hides her magic, knowing they could be killed if suspected of witchcraft. Occasionally Nola tosses a hair in a bucket of water to read ""shadowforms""--images of what the hair's owner is doing at that moment. Such a spell is in progress when a silversmith fires her and her mother. In her rushed departure, Nola neglects to break the spell; so she bespells another bucket to see if the first one has been discovered. Thus she witnesses the silversmith's murder. Afraid that she may be implicated in the murder, Nola returns to the silversmith's house. She continues to cast spells to protect her ruse, each time creating more trouble for herself--but more fun and suspense for readers. Although they may be overwhelmed by the detailed plot points, readers will be rewarded with a solid mystery and a handful of memorable characters, especially Nola's mother, an eccentric woman possessed by spirits, who makes funny asides (e.g., ""Never underestimate someone who's willing to hold your head while you're being sick""). The investigator's acceptance of Nola's witchcraft, however, feels too sudden, and their romance unnecessary. The impractical conclusion is a letdown from an otherwise entertaining read. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)