Wednesday, July 31, 2013
An Historical Novel That Reads Like Fantasy
A historical thriller set in Germany, 1660: When a dying boy is pulled from the river with a mark crudely tattooed on his shoulder, hangman Jakob Kuisl is called upon to investigate whether witchcraft is at play in his small Bavarian town. Whispers and dark memories of witch trials and the women burned at the stake just seventy years earlier still haunt the streets of Schongau. When more children disappear and an orphan boy is found dead—marked by the same tattoo—the mounting hysteria threatens to erupt into chaos.
Before the unrest forces him to torture and execute the very woman who aided in the birth of his children, Jakob must unravel the truth. With the help of his clever daughter, Magdelena, and Simon, the university-educated son of the town’s physician, Jakob discovers that a devil is indeed loose in Schongau. But it may be too late to prevent bloodshed.
A brilliantly detailed, fast-paced historical thriller, The Hangman’s Daughter is the first novel from German television screenwriter Oliver Pötzsch, a descendent of the Kuisls, a famous Bavarian executioner clan.
This was a well-written, fast paced mystery. There are a lot of paranormal elements, so although this is historical fiction, I think Bite Club members may really enjoy this.
The hangman, Jakob Kuisl, is a very well developed character. In fact, in my opinion, the book should have been named The Hangman, instead of The Hangman's Daughter. He is by far the most interesting person in Schongau. His past is troubled. He was intended to be the village hangman, as his father was before him, but for a time, he tried to avoid this gruesome destiny. However, after seeing the senseless violence of war, he comes to understand that he has a place in society, and a duty to perform the necessary task of meting out justice according to the law. But that doesn't mean that the person who stands accused is always guilty, and Jakob has been thrust into a difficult position.
The midwife, a good friend of his, has been accused of witchcraft and it is Jakob who must torture a confession out of a woman who he respects and who he knows is no murderer, nor a witch. But the town is in a panic. The devil himself, with a skeleton hand, has been seen lurking around the town, and the fears of the people demand that the witch be burned to save them from future peril. Jakob must find the true culprit, and convince the burghers that the midwife's death is unnecessary. But in the seventeenth century, this is no easy feat.
His daughter, Magdalena helps to solve the mystery, along with her suitor, the physician's son, Simon. Magdalena is a strong-willed girl, and very intelligent, and Simon is a forward-thinking intellectual, in a town full of superstitious villagers. The pair make a sweet couple, and I think in future novels we will see more of their romance blossom. In this book, they are just beginning to fall in love.
The book is a page-turner. The mystery keeps you on your toes throughout the story, and you feel the characters' sense of urgency as they try to stall the midwife's torture, and prevent terror from consuming Schongau. They know that once a witch is found, it never just ends there. The townspeople won't be satisfied until half of the women of the town are put to the stake, and there is talk that Magdalena, and a young girl named Sophie could follow the midwife, if she is executed.
I really enjoyed this book, and I am glad that there are more books by Potzsch, featuring Jakob, Magdalena, and Simon. I have ordered the rest of them to my kindle, and I can't wait to read more of their mystery-solving adventures.
Goodreads for all of the "Hangman" series-