The Hangman’s Daughter: A Novel
by Oliver Pötzsch
Book 1 in The Hangman’s Daughter series
This book is set in Schongau, Bavaria c. 1660, an era and area I’m not familiar with, so I borrowed it from Amazon’s Kindle Owner’s Lending Library. The main characters are Jacob Kuisl, the town executioner, his nineteen-year-old daughter Magdalena, and the young doctor Simon Fronwieser. In the first chapter, a young boy named Peter is stabbed and thrown into the river. The townsfolk rescue him, but he dies shortly afterwards. A symbol is found painted on his back so everyone’s first thought is WITCHCRAFT!
The mid-wife, Martha Stechlin, immediately comes under suspicion and is arrested and charged with murder. Jacob and Simon don’t believe she is guilty, but the town authorities want the matter settled quickly. When another child dies while Martha is in jail, Jacob knows she isn’t guilty, but those who believe in witchcraft aren’t dissuaded, apparently thinking a witch could kill someone while locked in a dungeon. Rolling eyes here.
Aware that he will be expected to torture her into confessing, whether she is guilty of not, Jacob sets out to solve the murder with help from Simon who is sweet on Magdalena. It takes them a while to figure out what is going on, since the motivation for the murders isn’t revealed until well into the book. I had fingered the “moneybags” behind the murders early on, but not the reasons why he did it.
I found the book interesting and exciting, if a little gory at times. It was a brutal period, poised between the Middle Ages and the modern world. The better educated townsfolk have thrown off the superstitions of the past, but most people haven’t.
I liked the three main characters, esp. Jacob who is a thoughtful and somewhat reluctant executioner. At the time, the job was hereditary, and while it was necessary, the hangman was considered dishonorable, which meant that his daughter could not aspire so high as to marry a doctor, no matter that Simon never finished his education.
This is the first in a series, and I may read more. Jacob Kuisl was a real person and the author is one of his descendants.