28 December 2012 ~ 0 Comments

The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch

One of my best friends, and members of my book club, always chooses a book that scares me. This book was the choice for this year for her. Usually the book she chooses is just too literary or boring, but sometimes she surprises me and I really love it. It’s what I like most about my book club – I get to explore books I never would have picked up on my own. This one? I kind of want to whack my friend over the head for making me read it.

I want to blame the translation to English, but really… I think this book just tries too hard. It’s overly wordy and descriptive without really fleshing out anything. Jakob (the hangman) was the only one I really felt any connection to, and that was pretty thin. I didn’t feel a connection to the time or place either. It was just surface written. You’d think with the length, there would be some deep connections made in this book.

The title also annoys me. I know, I know… seems trivial, but I expected the daughter to be this central character or some sort of means to the end or something… anything. Instead, I have no idea why the title is what it is and, frankly, I’m not even sure why the daughter was there. Again, we learned so little about her – or any of the other characters – that it was just a “whatever” character.

I DID feel that I learned a little more about this time period. Unfortunately, those parts weren’t written into the story very well. It felt disconnected, like he was giving us information, not giving us a story.

Recommended for those die-hard historical fiction readers. Obviously, other folks loved this book. For me, eh… not so much.

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. So begins The Hangman’s Daughter–the chillingly detailed, fast-paced historical thriller from German television screenwriter Oliver Pötzsch, a descendant of the Kuisls, a famous Bavarian executioner clan.

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 to 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.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Book count for 2012: 42

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