Book Review: The Hangman’s Daughter

I have recently read The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch (translated by Lee Chadeayne) on my Kindle. I love historical fiction and found this book delightful in its presentation, rich in its historical setting, and a bit too much of a page-turner for my own good. I found myself lingering too long reading when I should have been working more often than I’ll admit aloud — though this is exactly the type of book I hope I find when I delve into the pages. While I may not admit to the time spent, I simply won’t apologize for it. Not at all.

Hangman's DaughterThe story is based in a small town in Bavaria during the 17th century. Children are being murdered, one by one, and the midwife is suspected. The hangman and the doctor’s son don’t believe it was this woman so they set out to prove her innocence and catch the culprit. The author creates an urgency to settle the case and hang the woman for witchcraft and murder because there is a high-ranking official on his way to the town. The arrival of the official will cost the town dearly and, since they are just recovering from the last plague, they haven’t enough funds to support a lengthy stay.

What I loved most:

  • Truly well-researched feel of the time with all the darkness, fear, smells, and restrictions of propriety. I was transported.
  • The mystery is deep and made more complex by the stringency of the society.
  • There is an underground chase scene and fight sequence.
  • Historical consistency. There are strong, logical female characters in this book that, due to the era, can never achieve their full potential and have no voice except through the men in their lives. While this injustice tears at my soul, Mr. Pötazch never oversteps his bounds. He keeps their wisdom tightly reigned.
  • The “Big Bad” is the devil — or, at least, a man thought to be the devil as he physically resembles the Grim Reaper. Plus, he has a clever hand prosthetic made of his own bones. How cool is that?
  • Much like “The Princess Bride,” this story has all the mystery, adventure, fight scenes, murders, vengeance, a little love story thrown in for good measure, a witch hunt, and a battle for justice.

I read interview with the author. Apparently, Mr. Pötazch is a descendent of the Kuisl line of hangmen. I find that very inspiring. The idea of being presented with one’s genealogical heritage, researching that time, and building a world around the story of that relative. It makes me wish I knew more about my own heritage. I’m sure there are lots of interesting stories living in my predecessors’ DNA.

I recommend this book for lovers of historical fiction, mysteries, or thrillers. I do not recommend it for those looking for a strong romance. The eponymous hangman’s daughter is not truly the wagon upon which this story is hitched. It is the executioner and the physician that move the story forward and, while the daughter is both wise and a motivating factor for the physician to be involved, she isn’t a central character. I believe that she is set up to be a more central character in subsequent novels. There are at least three more books in the series, though I’ve not read any of those.

Breathe deeply,
Laugh with abandon,
Love wholly,
Eat well.

MiLady Carol

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