Historical fiction · Mystery

The Hangman’s Daughter…a little long-winded but historically interesting

Title: The Hangman’s Daughter
Author: Oliver Potzsch
Published: AmazonCrossing, 2010
Genre: Mystery
Length: 448 pages
Rating: 5/10

The Kindle version of The Hangman’s Daughter was randomly on sale one day and I thought it looked good–how could a book about a hangman and murder not be good? I read it while traveling for work in CA last week and it kept me awake for the plane ride.

The Hangman’s Daughter is set in Germany in 1660, in the town of Schongau. The main characters are Jakob Kuisl, the town hangman, his daughter Magdalena, and Simon, the physician’s son. Jakob is intelligent and a self-taught healer, yet also skilled in torture and killing; an unusual combination for a hangman. When one of the town’s orphans is found dying and has a strange tattoo on his back, Jakob is asked to investigate.

But many of the town inhabitants have witchcraft on the brain, considering only 70 years earlier witches were discovered in Shongau and burned at the stake. When another child with the same tattoo is found dead and clearly murdered, many townspeople peg the local midwife as a witch and murderer and Jakob is asked to torture her until she confesses. In the meantime, more alarming events occur and a mysterious character with a hand made only of bones seems to be lurking on the outskirts of town. I’ll be honest, as the plot develops the imminent torture of the mid-wife and the search for the bone-hand guy does start to drag.

From the start of the book, you learn that in the 1600’s, a town’s hangman and his family carry a stigma and apparently a hangman’s daughter is not reputable to marry. But Magdalena is both intelligent and beautiful (of course) and the physician’s son Simon, in his pursuit of the truth about the murders and in his growing friendship with Jakob, finds himself drawn to Magdalena time and again. This book is very much about the contrasting beliefs of the town folk (uneducated and emotional) and our main characters (well-read or educated), and who will prevail as the murder mystery is solved.

Potzsch’s story is interesting. The main characters are well-detailed and the town feels real.The first part of the book is pretty fast-paced though it does start to drag towards the end, but it’s worth finishing. Books like this are entertaining but also allow you to learn a little bit about small German towns in the 1600’s too. The author is also a descendant of the Kuisl hangman family, so while this is fiction, I feel like it’s authentically written.

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