Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch ***

The idea is very intriguing--using your own family's history, write a mystery novel with your relatives as characters!  That's what Oliver Pötzsch did about his ancestors, the Kuisl's, a family of professional executioners.  Set in Bavaria in the 1600's, after the 30 Years War, Jakob Kuisl is the hangman for the town of Schongau.  When a group of children that played together start showing up dead, one by one, Jakob is charged with proving the local midwife innocent of the crimes.  With superstition, allegations of witchcraft, hidden treasure, & hired swords, the action is very intense & the plot thickens nicely.
I was excited to find Schongau in a modern German atlas that my husband has.  He's a high school German teacher, but more importantly he loves history, so when I told him where & when the story was taking place in the book he knew immediately that the 30 Years War was over, but that it had decimated Germany.  The whole area was left in poverty & ruin, & it took many years for the people of the area to get back to what their lives had been before the war.  The war had been very brutal & been fought on German soil, with many atrocities performed on both sides of the conflict.  He told me that many people, especially not from Europe, don't know anything about this war & why it was fought.  We think that the Protestant faith just came about when Martin Luther nailed his list on the door of the church, but that was just the beginning.  The 30 Years' War was the fight for control of Europe--would each country remain firmly Catholic, or would they become Protestant?
I liked the setting, the characters, & the action of the book.  My only personal, petty issue was that I was hoping for a bigger mystery in the end.  I was a little disappointed by the conclusion & found it lacking in believability, but overall it was a great read.  I don't know if I'll read any more of the books Pötzsch has since written about his famous ancestors (they seem to be a series of mysteries), but I definitely don't regret the time I spent reading this book.

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