I admit, I’m a bit surprised that a historical mystery centering around a hangman would end up being my favorite read of the summer. I read The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch while sitting on the beach and loved the contrast between the complicated and gritty world in the book and my serene windswept surroundings.
It’s 1659, and the villagers in a little town in the middle of Bavaria are thankful that it’s been many years since a major witch hunt swept through the town. Jacob Kuisl, executioner and official torturer, occupies his time by treating the many maladies and sicknesses of the villagers, while his daughter Magdalena pines after the local doctor’s son. Then a young boy is found dead with what looks like a witch’s mark tattooed on his back, and things go downhill quickly from there. A ‘devil’ is seen in the area with a hand made of bones, and more children start disappearing. Kuisl and his unlikely ally, the doctor’s son, frantically search for the true culprit while the village council agrees that a local midwife must be forced into confession as a scapegoat for the crimes.
The author successfully captures the flavor and historical detail of the time period and the plot kicks breathlessly along. I learned a lot about 17th century medicine and beliefs while following the twists and turns of this murder mystery. I also found it interesting that the author actually used real people and events from his family history as the basis of his story. And now I’m moving on to book 2 in the series, The Dark Monk.