cover image Ghost of a Hanged Man

Ghost of a Hanged Man

Vivian Vande Velde. Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, $14.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-7614-5015-3

Before he's hanged, murderer and outlaw Jake Barnette vows to come back from the dead and get the varmints who put him in the grave. Ben, the 11-year-old narrator, and his younger sister, Annabelle, don't quite believe him, but since their dad is the town sheriff, they are just a little worried. Set in 1877, Vande Velde's (Smart Dog) ghost story whips up enough excitement to override the stock characters that populate it--a gypsy girl who reads Tarot cards so dire her face pales in fear and she folds the deck; the nasty Barnette, whose coffin turns up empty after a violent rainstorm; and the pink supernatural presence of the dearly departed Mama, who floats in to save the family from a gruesome demise at the hands of the angry outlaw ghost. A touch of humor greases the story's wheels; for instance, when the family knows that Barnette's ghost is on the loose, Annabelle urges her dad to leave town. The previously rational Pa ""hate[s] to admit it,"" but says they can't assume that ""someone who can travel back from the grave can't cross town lines.'' From the auspicious opener (""Pa said we were too young to go to the hanging"") to the screaming conclusion, it's a fun fright. Ages 8-12. (Oct.)