British author K.M. (Katie) Grant, creator of the popular de Granville trilogy, boasts a more colorful family history than most of us can claim. In 1747, her ancestor, Col. Francis Towneley, was the last man in Britain to be hanged, drawn and quartered. In the process, however, Uncle Frank was unfortunately separated from his head, which was passed down in the family for generations and finally reunited with his body after World War II. As Grant says in a note to readers at the beginning of her darkly hilarious new novel, How the Hangman Lost his Heart, the story may unnerve you it unnerved me for executions are never pleasant. But, as she goes on to admit, this tale inspired by her family's checkered past is not a tragedy but a romp. The story opens when the young and beautiful Alice Towneley is the only family member brave (or foolish) enough to attend Uncle Frank's execution. Although at first Alice plans to take the body back to her parents' home miles away in the country, she cannot bring herself to leave without Uncle Frank's head, which has been put up on a rooftop display as a deterrent to other traitorous followers of Bonnie Prince Charlie. What follows is reminiscent of a lively French farce, with Alice trying her best to get Uncle Frank home with the help, and sometimes hindrance, of two unlikely suitors hangman and executioner Dan Skinslicer, who keeps his hands steady and his steel sharp, and a romantic captain of the Royal Guard named Hew Ffrench (with two fs!).

Teen readers will have a wonderful time with the black humor and nonstop action and are sure to feel compassion for the indignities Uncle Frank suffers. Surely, it's bad enough to be executed, without having one's head subsequently hidden in a hatbox, wrapped up in a sheet and thrown over the back of a galloping horse! Does Uncle Frank ever find peace? Come along for this heady ride and find out.

 

Deborah Hopkinson's new picture book, Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek, will be published next year.

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