REVIEW: The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars, Genre: Historical Fiction/ Mystery, Pages: 448, Level: Easy

Book Description from Barnes & Noble:

“Magdalena, the clever and headstrong daughter of Bavarian hangman Jakob Kuisl, lives with her father outside the village walls and is destined to be married off to another hangman’s son- except that the town physician’s son is hopelessly in love with her. And her father’s wisdom and empathy are as unusual as his despised profession. It is 1659, the Thirty Years’ War has finally ended, and there hasn’t been a witchcraft mania in decades. But now, a drowning and gruesomely injured boy, tattooed with the mark of a witch, is pulled from a river and the villagers suspect the local midwife, Martha Stechlin.

Jakob Kuisl is charged with extracting a confession from her and torturing her until he gets one. Convinced she is innocent, he, Magdalena, and her would-be suitor race against the clock to find the true killer. Approaching Walpurgisnacht, when witches are believed to dance in the forest and mate with the devil, another tattooed orphan is found dead and the town becomes frenzied. More than one person has spotted what looks like the devil- a man with a hand made only of bones. The hangman, his daughter, and the doctor’s son face a terrifying and very real enemy.

Taking us back in history to a place where autopsies were blasphemous, coffee was an exotic drink, dried toads were the recommended remedy for the plague, and the devil was as real as anything, The Hangman’s Daughter brings to cinematic life the sights, sounds, and smells of seventeenth-century Bavaria, telling the engrossing story of a compassionate hangman who will live on in readers’ imaginations long after they’ve put down the novel.”

“October 12 was a good day for a killing. It had rained all week, but on this Friday, after the church fair, our good Lord was in a kindlier mood. Though autumn had already come, the sun was shining brightly on that part of Bavaria they call the Pfaffenwinkel—the priests’ corner—and merry noise and laughter could be heard from the town. Drums rumbled, cymbals clanged, and somewhere a fiddle was playing. The aroma of deep-fried doughnuts and roasted meat drifted down to the foul-smelling tanners’ quarter. Yes, it was going to be a lovely execution.” Page 1.

What a captivating beginning.

Unfortunately I ended up not enjoying that book as much as I thought I would. A child is found dead. On the back of his shoulder is a witch’s mark. Martha is the town midwife. She uses herbs and practices what we now would call homeopathic medicine. Back then, it was called witchcraft. She is arrested and will soon be tortured for a confession and then burned at the stake. The Hangman, Jakob, does not believe that Martha is guilty. With the help of the physician’s son, Simon, the Hangman tries to find the real criminal. But the body count continues to rise and the devil has been seen on the streets of the town…

The Hangman’s Daughter is a mystery and I am not that big into mysteries. Then there was an awful lot of filler. I sometimes felt that some of the details were really irrelevant and just included to fill in some space. It was a decent storyline and the characters were very well developed. So if you like mysteries, you may enjoy this book.

I was fascinated with the whole executioner aspect of the book- not so much of the bloody, gory details, of which there is not a lot, but more of the whole social aspect of it. For example, in the book, even though an executioner can make decent money, he is practically an outcast. People will seek him for his homeopathic remedies, but most will not publicly befriend him. His children are destined to marry within the families of other executioners from neighboring towns, indeed sometimes distant relatives because they are considered untouchable. In addition, his duties weigh heavily on Jakob. All these would have made for a fascinating story. That is what I thought the book would be about, with the witchcraft story as a backdrop, but that was not the case. So for me, this was only a three star novel, simply because it is not my cup of tea. If it had not been so well written, I would only have given it two.

Reviewed by Christina

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