Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book Review - The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch

The Hangman’s Daughter
Oliver Pötzsch
Kindle Version
Publisher: AmazonCrossing
Publication Date: December 7, 2010
Source ISBN: 054774501X
Print Length: 448 pages

     A murder mystery set in 17th Century Bavaria told from the perspective of an executioner? How creative is that? Yes, I understand that Oliver Pötzsch gleaned a lot of this story from his own genealogical background, but still… I love all the originality that came out of his family history research. Believe me when I tell you that most family history study is rather boring (dates and names and full of dull farmers and peasants and such) so a truly original idea stemming from that exploration is extremely interesting to me. Had he only written this one book I might have attributed it to a flash-in-the-pan but interesting. That Pötzsch was able to add to the story for an additional three more books is an amazing accomplishment.

     The Hangman’s Daughter is a dark and grisly tale told from the viewpoint of Jacob Kuisl, the local Hangman, who is not at all like what executioners have been portrayed in film and fiction over the years. Kuisl is not a cold, heartless killer hiding behind a mask. He’s a real, loving, caring person that understands his role as village executioner and sets out to complete his every duty to keep his family in beets and mutton. But Jacob is also a kind-hearted, compassionate, and logical-minded man that understands the harsh realities of the world he lives in even if he has to break a few noses to get to the truth. And the tortures and executions he must commit in the name of the village leaders are sometimes burdens he has difficulty shouldering, especially when he doesn’t agree with the judgments handed down by the town burghers. It doesn’t happen often but when it does it puts Kuisl in a precarious situation. Like when the midwife that delivered his children is accused of witchcraft.

     I think that the logical, caring, scientific man behind the mask is the main reason this story worked for me. Yes, you could argue that the language or phrases could not have come from the 17th Century (but really, what fun would that read be?) You could also argue that there’s too much implied violence here (especially the torture of a witch and the murder of children) but the sad reality is that the world was a very cruel place when this fictional account happened and Pötzsch does an excellent job of setting the tone for his historic scenes, which is another reason I rated this story high. But the main reason I enjoyed this story so much was that I valued the characters. The Hangman with a secret heart of gold and a fist of fury, his daughter, Magdalena, trapped by circumstance of birth to marry an executioner herself and filled with melancholy and stubbornness because of it, the town doctor’s son, Simon, a new physician himself, who despises the old medicinal practices of blood letting and purging, and the accused witch who is nothing more than an innocent midwife with a few herbal remedies made The Hangman’s Daughter a very enjoyable read. The character development was beautifully paced and the antagonist cleverly conceived and I began to care about the characters very quickly; a sure sign of a well-written story to me.

     The Hangman’s Daughter was a comparatively quick read for me and I enjoyed every moment of it very much. As a matter of fact, I appreciated The Hangman’s Daughter so much that I purchased the Kindle versions of the other two available books in the series, The Dark Monk and The Beggar King and pre-ordered the forth-coming fourth book in the series The Poisoned Pilgrim, due out later this year.

     File with: Historical fiction, murder mystery, Jesse Bullington, horror, history, executioners, Ellis Peters, hangmen, and witchcraft.

5 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:
Hangman's Daughter Series
1. The Hangman's Daughter (2010)
2. The Dark Monk (2012)
3. The Beggar King (2012)
4. The Poisoned Pilgrim (2013)

The Hangman’s Daughter Amazon Page

The Hangman’s Daughter Wiki Page

The Hangman’s Daughter Video Trailer

HistoricalNovels.Info Review
(Includes other novels featuring executioners, non-fiction works about executioners, and additional online information. Very informative!)

Author’s Official Website
Interview with Oliver Pötzsch

Interesting WSJ Article about Oliver Pötzsch


[A Lesson Learned: So, I’ve come to realize recently that I tend to reward creativeness and originality with slightly higher ratings in the books that I’ve read. Should I let that affect my rating? Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so but I don’t really know. What I do know is that I recognize rather quickly what books I do like and if you’re anything at all like me then you’ll probably like many of my highest rated books. I hope that my reviews have helped you decide which books to read and that you’ve enjoyed them as much as I. If not, well, your voice can be heard in the comment section below every post. Let me know what you think! And, thank you for reading The Alternative!]

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