Friday, March 27, 2015

Book Review: The Hangman's Daughter

It was kind of funny. When I went to the book club meeting where we selected our eleven books for the year, I brought my list, which included markings for books I'd already read, books I would probably go ahead and read even if they didn't end up being selected by the group, and only one book marked as something I was not interested in at all. Two of our selections were ones I've already read, but would indeed be willing to read again. Three selections were ones I had marked to be read regardless. And, the one book I didn't want to read at all, well  ... that made this month's selection: The Hangman's Daughter.

I wasn't excited about reading a book about an executioner. Nor was I thrilled that the book promised to explore cries of witchcraft  in seventeenth century Bavaria and to include the appearance of a character known by the people as the devil, who boasts a hand of visible bones. None of that appealed to me in the slightest. I really thought about not reading the book at all and just skipping March's club meeting. I declared to my husband that I was only giving the book 50 pages to make my decision. Somehow, at the end of 50 pages, I wanted to read on to find out what was going to happen and who was responsible for the crimes being committed in the small town of Shongau.

From the beginning, the reader learns that the executioner is not thrilled about his job, but feels resigned to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors. Then, dead children begin to show up. The first is pulled from the icy waters of a raging river, with multiple stab wounds and a strange mark etched into his skin. The mark is taken for a symbol of witchcraft and immediately the town suspects the midwife (who deals in many natural remedies or brews for childbirth and its complications). I was sucked in. I wanted to know who was killing the children (three were murdered) and to what purpose. I wanted to find out if the town would indeed employ the executioner to torture the midwife into a confession so they could tidy things up by burning her at the stake.

Potzsch certainly manages to keep the suspense alive and to up the ante over and over again. Just when you think the hangman and the young town doctor (who is disgracing his father by falling for the hangman's daughter) will come to harm in their quest for the truth, they manage to escape and a further development is revealed. The remaining children hold the key to the mystery, but in fear they are hiding out in an undisclosed place.

So, I have to admit that I enjoyed the novel more than I anticipated. Still, it wasn't without fault. I was jarred by the constant use of phrases which seemed far too modern for the time frame established. It was translated, so perhaps the translator is responsible for the modern terminology. While the book held my interest, it felt like the author was trying hard to maintain a frantic pace of action. It seemed more thriller than historical fiction (or perhaps it was just that the historical bits didn't seem to ring true always). Even though I discovered that this is merely the first book in a series, I can say with certainty that I won't be seeking out the rest of the books. Just not my thing (although better than I expected).

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