Germany, 1659: 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 70 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.
©2011 Oliver Pötzsch, Lee Chadeayne (translation) (P)2011 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
Set in 1659, in the small town of Schongau in Bavaria, Germany, more than one child has been murdered and they bear an unusual mark on their shoulders. The town’s hangman, Jakob Kuisl, is ordered to torture a confession out of the town midwife, Marta, who is suspected of witchcraft. Jakob doesn’t believe it and starts to dig into the mystery, finding far more devilish behavior than he expected.
I really enjoyed this novel. The mix of murder mystery, historical fiction, and the suspicion of witchcraft really grabbed a hold of me. I had never thought too much of who, in general, was in charge of executions, torturing, and other punishments (like cutting off a hand) and this book really opened my eyes to how Bavaria handled that. It was a family trait, the hangmen in general considered to be lowly men. It was near impossible to marry out of the trade and so hangmen families kept in touch throughout the area, often arranging marriages among their children. This aspect of the book really fascinated me and Kuisl (which rhymes with ‘weasel’ so it’s just fun to say) was a great character through which to get to know more about hangmen in Bavaria in the 1650s.
Jakob’s daughter, Magdelena, is close to marrying age. She’s clever and rather independent, her father’s station, lowly but untouchable, gives her some protection for going about unattended. Now my one little quibble with this book is the title, The Hangman’s Daughter. Really, this book is about Jakob and not about Magdelena. Indeed, she has a rather minor role. While the women are interesting in this book, they don’t get the spotlight and almost never call the shots. Yes, the title did pull me in, but it is also a bit misleading.
Other than that tiny criticism, I found it difficult to put this book down. Simon is the other main character. He’s the son of the town physician, but unlike his father, he attended a medical university. He’s fascinated by Jakob’s book collection, which contains books that traditional physicians reject. Simon doesn’t believe that bleeding a patient does any good, unlike his father. This dichotomy of what was considered true medical knowledge was on good display with Simon and his father.
Of course, then we have the midwife, Marta, who’s been accused of witchcraft. Early on, we know that one of the prominent town politicians doesn’t believe she is a witch but he feels Marta must be sacrificed to avoid a break out of hysteria, such as there was 70 years prior that resulted in so many being tortured and burned at the stake. Jakob, as the town’s hangman, is in a very difficult position. If he doesn’t carry out his sworn duty to the town (to torture the midwife), he could be dismissed, which would result in he and his family being turned out of the town. I really felt for Jakob! He had plenty of hard decisions to make, but once he set on a course he carried it out to the best of his ability. Nearly from the beginning, there was plenty of tension in the story because Jakob had only so much time to find the real culprit.
There was more than one piece to this mystery. Jakob and Simon have their hands full trying to get information out of townsfolk and orphan children even as they hunt down the supposed devil. Magdelena adds a few bits of knowledge here and there but is mostly a love interest. The scenes with Marta were the most touching and also chilling. Jakob does his best to minimize the damage, but he can’t be seen assisting her or even holding back. Towards the end, I was biting my nails as Jakob and Simon raced against a clock to save not only Marta but some of the remaining orphan children. The ending was quite satisfying and I was very pleased to learn there are several more books in this series. The translation was quite good. There was only one or two instances where I wondered if such a modern word was the right translation, but these few instances did not detract from the story at all.
I accessed a free copy of this audiobook through the Kindle Unlimited program.
The Narration: Grover Gardner made a great Jakob Kuisl. There were plenty of German words and names in this book and he did a splendid job in pronouncing them. His female voices were pretty good as well. His ability to imbue a character with emotions was put on display with Jakob’s scenes with Marta.
Not only is the Hangman's Daughter one of my favourite finds of this year, but the narrator and the story fit together so flawlessly that the hours seemed to melt away. This book is the PERFECT read for the spooky months of the fall!
I found this book to be a bit difficult to get into, but the time period and setting kept me interested. The duties of a hangman in 17th century Bavaria are not what I would have imagined I'd enjoy, but I did. I found the reader to be a little too much like a newscaster, but I still listened for long stretches at a time. I will probably listen to the next book in the series.
Interesting historical fiction. I listen to books to and from work and this one had me sitting in the car in my driveway, so I could listen more. Love the heroes. Wish they would make movie or Netflix series out of it!
It was difficult to see the redeeming qualities amidst all the torture, murder, and evil, disgusting characters. A vivid description of what witch trial were like - but not enjoyable in the least.
Though sometimes slow moving with a disappointing, indirect delivery of justice in the end, overall an excellent mystery. Looking forward to the next book in the series.
Narrator sounds like he's in a rush the whole time, never giving his words gravity and often giving them the wrong tone.
The story was good abd in an interesting setting but really gets dragged out.
Why is it that every book now seems to be about somebody who happens to have a daughter? Anyway, this is one of those typical Mideval mysteries in the spirit of Cadfael only instead of a monk, the detective is a hangman. This hangman has his compassionate side. He also seems to be intellectually overqualified for his job title, but this is a family business. There are the typical church ideologues, self-serving municipal functionaries and herbal remedies and poisons though the apothecary plot elements are handled by a young doctor instead of being a hobby of the protagonist. Historical series (Aubrey/Maturin or Poldark for example) always have to include a doctor. Well somebody has to sew up the wounded or discover the tincture of murder. It's not a bad story, it's just that I've read its kind so often before and the characters feel inserted into a formulaic plot like Lego pieces.
The narration of this book was in my opinion not well done. The tempo of the reader seemed off which made it very difficult to listen to. The storyline dragged on for what seems like an eternity.
I have both and enjoy them equally. I tend to follow one author on audio or print but seldom in both media. The author creates very vibrant scenes and complex characters that come alive in both media.
I've read all of Potzsch's books first. Gardner's interpretation of the characters meshed closely with what my imagination had constructed when I read the books. I would like to hear the son-in-law's (Simon) whininess a little more but Gardner's reading is enjoyable and easy to listen to.
I believe I listened to this one while driving across part of Texas!
The Hangman series of books can be read independently from one another but are more enjoyable when read in order. His character development is superb and continues throughout the series.
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