Book Review: The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch
by Oliver Pötzsch, Translated by Lee Chadeayne
Mariner Books, 2011
Oliver Pötzsch is a direct descendant of the real man on which the main character, an executioner, is based. More than that, Pötzsch is a descendant of generations and generations of executioners. It was the family business. Grandparents and parents handed down the duties, dangers and psychological hardships to children and grandchildren. The author’s personal connection to this dubious past makes this story all the more absorbing. When his main character tortures and kills, Pötzsch exorcises some family demons. When this same character soothes and heals better than the town physicians, the author redeems and grants some esteem to the family reputation.
Notice I am talking about the hangman as the main character, not the hangman’s daughter. The title is curious. The hangman has a daughter, sure, but the story does not revolve around her. It’s not a crucial point except it did distract me during my reading. I kept wondering, “What is the hangman’s daughter going to do that is so important?” In the end, nothing of note. Huh.
So, the main character, Jakob Kuisl, is hangman living in Bavaria in the 1600s, a time of superstition and medical misinformation. When a midwife is falsely charged with murder and witchcraft, Jakob must torture a woman he believes to be innocent and kill her if he doesn’t find the real culprit.
Apart from the misleading title, Pötzsch’s mystery informs as well as entertains. He chose a setting and character about which most of us know little. The book is worth reading for the glimpse into the life of a hangman and his family of that era.
This is the first of a series, including The Dark Monk, The Beggar King, and The Poisoned Pilgrim.