Sunday, 12 May 2013

A Moody Bavarian Mystery - THE HANGMAN'S DAUGHTER by Oliver Potzsch

The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch
The Hangman's Daughter held a surprise in its pages for me. It was not an immediate surprise and it took some time for it to actually dawn on me. It came late in the book. About two thirds of the way through, and despite what you may be thinking, no, it had nothing to do with the mystery or the 'hook' or the whodunnit. The surprise came in the form of the history and how the author's research had been inserted within the story.
I knew how important the research was to this author, as I was lucky enough to interview Oliver Potzsch before I started the book, and I am glad that I knew that and had experienced his love for his research and his charatcers, because you truly can tell that he will do whatever it takes to build scene and create his world for the reader.

The book itself was not a flawless article for me. It had its flaws to be sure. But where a few things let it down (in my personal opinion) it was the way the author captured his research inside the story that made me not only think, but to seek out others to discuss my thoughts. The surprise of the book was, that it was entirely thought provoking.
It was not just another flacid historical mystery, with a quirky or morose protaganist, a cunning villain, a handful of suspects, a gruesome crime or two and a sinister motive.  It did have those of course, since it was a historical mystery in its essence - but this book was an education for someone like me who is not from the part of the world this book was set in. Bavaria, near Augsburger, at the end of the brutal Thirty Years' War.

The book made me think about this village and the dynamic of its people. Made me care about its future. I was interested in the way the society interacted with each other and with neighbouring villages, especially in light of the closing of the Thirty Years' War and the atrocities committed as part of it. Of note, the horrors attended most enthusiastically upon Magdeburg.
Then there was the witchcraft and the witch hunts of the Seventeenth century.  The fear of witches, religion, both having to coexist alongside cultures where medicines were still of the earth. Where one was likely to be asked to heal one day with plant roots and poultices and then accused of witchcraft for it the next.
They were frightening times in these areas of Germany and that comes through strongly in the book.

The flaws I mentioned. The translation started out excellently. Hard to believe I was even reading a translation. But it was not always to be this way and in the second half of the book I feel the translation was not as good, or the author was not writing as well as he had in the beginning. Without having a grasp of the German written word so that I can read the original non-translated version, I guess I will never know whether it was the author or the translator who weakened in the second half.

The book isn't really about The Hangman's Daughter, so you should not go into it expecting too much of that character. The book is mostly a book about the Hangman, Jakob Kuisl, and the Doctor, Simon Fronwieser.
A final complaint if I may without undermining the good rating I gave the book? The mystery was dragged out and the book could have done with some shortening.
Still, all said and done, I give this book a 4 star rating out of 5. Not neccessarily for the story or the writing itself, but for the magical job Oliver Potzsch did on creating this world and setting his scenes.

- MM

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