Monday, October 10, 2011

The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch

   It's the middle of the 17th century, and Jakob Kuisl is one of the most feared and despised men in his small town of Schongau (Bavaria, Germany).  As the town's executioner, he is responsible for ending the lives of the worst criminals, and while this gives him much power, it also causes him to be socially shunned as it is considered bad luck to be seen with the hangman.  Kuisl lives on the outskirts of town with his wife and children, but when the body of a brutally slain child appears on the riverbank with a mysterious symbol on his shoulder, rumors of witchcraft swirl, and Jakob's quiet life on the edge of society is over.  The town suspects a local midwife to be the murderous witch and demand that she be executed.  However, Jakob believes that the midwife is innocent, and he and his family are forced to become more involved in the social and political realms of Schongau than they ever could have imagined.  As more bodies appear, Jakob must work quickly with the help of his daughter, Magdalena, and the town physician, Simon, to avoid another mass hysteria/ witch hunt and find the real killer.

   I'm still not quite sure why this book is called The Hangman's Daughter, as Magdalena doesn't exactly have a starring role in the novel.  Even though she is intelligent and strong, she is also a woman in the 17th century, meaning that no one really takes her that seriously.  I really wish she had been given a bigger role in the book.  Anyway, I really enjoyed the premise of the plot, but the translation seemed pretty sloppy at times.  Also, there were a few too many cliches for me, especially regarding the ending.  The final chapters were reminiscent of Scooby-Doo to be honest...mass confessions and long monologues wrapped everything up in a nice neat bow.  So while I was disappointed by the writing, I will say that the plot was engaging - especially considering that the plot is based on family stories that have been passed down for generations to the author, who is a direct descendant of the famous Kuisl executioners.