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The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch

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Rowan
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The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch

Post by Rowan » Tue September 4th, 2012, 8:09 pm

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 in his small Bavarian town. Whispers and dark memories of witch trials and the women burned at the stake just seventy years earlier still haunt the streets of Schongau. When more children disappear and an orphan boy is found dead—marked by the same tattoo—the mounting hysteria threatens to erupt into chaos.

Before the unrest forces him to torture and execute the very woman who aided in the birth of his children, Jakob must unravel the truth. With the help of his clever daughter, Magdelena, and Simon, the university-educated son of the town’s physician, Jakob discovers that a devil is indeed loose in Schongau. But it may be too late to prevent bloodshed.
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I don't recall exactly how I discovered this series; I only recall that it was the second book I found and then learned it was the second of a series. The story idea of using an executioner as the main character is what intrigued me most.

The author if this and subsequent books is descended from the largest clan of executioners in the history of Bavaria - the Kuisl dynasty - so a lot of his historical information was pulled from genealogy that his family had done over the years. It was very interesting to learn that town/city executioners were shunned by society, to the point that each family's children would be married to the children of executioners in other towns. Townsfolk would cross the street to avoid the executioner and his family members, they even went so far as to avoid speaking to them.

Mr Pötzsch did a good job in humanizing a man who might otherwise have been seen as a cruel monster. We know from the start that Jakob Kuisl has no real interest in being an executioner, or hangman, but does so because it's a job passed from father to son seemingly without end. That he drinks heavily both before and after a required execution showed, to me at least, that he detested his job despite being very good at it. Pötzsch also throws in a bit of irony in that most of the peasants of his town go to him for herbal/folk remedies for ailments rather than the learned doctor of the town.

Of course when you strip away the background of the main character, you could put the historical mystery that comes forth into just about any setting, but that didn't really take away from the story. There were characters to really like, such as Jakob's daughter Magdalena, and a handful of characters to detest like the burgomasters of the town and the murder himself, dubbed The Devil by the townsfolk.

I have an odd fascination with the superstitious nature of Eastern Europeans so for me this was a book well worth reading and I learned something about a class of people I'd never considered before.

Just wish I could figure out why Mr Pötzsch titled the book 'The Hangman's Daughter' as she's not exactly what one would consider a major character. She merely works with her father and her love interest to solve the crime.

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Post by Mythica » Wed September 5th, 2012, 8:35 am

Yeah, I'd heard it's not actually about the hangman's daughter. It was recently only $0.99 on Kindle though so I picked it up.

I thought it was the first in the series? Unless you mean you read Dark Monk first?

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Rowan
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Post by Rowan » Wed September 5th, 2012, 7:23 pm

I read this one first, but when I discovered the series, it was Dark Monk that I saw elsewhere and when I read up on it on Amazon, I saw it was #2 in the series so I bought this one first.

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Post by Alisha Marie Klapheke » Wed September 5th, 2012, 9:25 pm

My sister gave me this book. Thanks for summing it up for me. Sounds fantastic.

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Post by Margaret » Fri September 7th, 2012, 12:45 am

I enjoyed this (see my review), but I thought it didn't quite live up to its potential. Of course, many (probably most) novels don't, and still make good reading. I really agree with Rowan's point:
Of course when you strip away the background of the main character, you could put the historical mystery that comes forth into just about any setting...
In view of the extremely unusual choice of main character, an executioner, I was looking forward to a novel that was deeper somehow - either more insightful and unflinching about historical realities or more psychologically probing, or both. The author shows potential, though, so future novels in the series may develop more of these qualities.
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Rowan
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Post by Rowan » Mon September 10th, 2012, 1:56 pm

I would think that something was lost in translation. Mr Pötzsch is German and wrote in German and someone else translated the book for the rest of us and I'm betting that the subtle nuances you're seeking, Margaret, probably exist in the original German.

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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Wed September 12th, 2012, 10:50 pm

I'm betting that the subtle nuances you're seeking, Margaret, probably exist in the original German.
I doubt it, because I was looking for more psychological complexity in the characters, which would have come through. But the translation is certainly lacking. What annoyed me most was the outdated 1930s-style gangster slang, which didn't fit the period at all, IMHO. Today's slang would have been less jarring, if slang was necessary.
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Rowan
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Post by Rowan » Mon September 17th, 2012, 12:58 pm

I guess my general ignorance allows me to overlook what is lacking in most books.

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