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Thread: The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch

  1. #1
    Registered User SilentMute's Avatar
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    May 2010

    The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch

    There are three things I always look forward to whenever I receive a Costco magazine: an article by Famous Amos imparting his wisdom, the occasional photo contest results, and the book reviews. Costco magazine has been responsible for directing me to several books that were page-turners, the sort that make you want to curl up in bed and ignore the rest of the world. Previous books that were recommended that I enjoyed: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent.

    When I read the summary and author profile for The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch, I immediately planned to check it out at my local library. Unfortunately, while there had been an unchecked out copy of it, by the next day it was checked out. I had to place a hold on it. I guess many people who go to the library are Costco shoppers too.

    Oliver Pötzsch is descended from a famous line of Bavarian hangmen. He writes the book from the perspective of Jakob Kuisl, a hangman for the village of Schongau in the mid-1600s. Jakob Kuisl is an historical figure, an actual ancestor of Oliver Pötzsch. I assume the story itself is fictional, though possibly it is based on events that did happen.

    Jakob Kuisl, as a young boy, had vowed not to follow in his father’s footsteps after witnessing the gruesome, botched beheading of a child killer by his drunken father. However, he changes his mind after becoming a soldier and was ordered to indiscriminately kill innocents. He decides that if he must kill, he will focus on executing those who deserve it.

    The life of a hangman is lonely. It is considered a necessary but dishonorable trade. The townspeople avoid the hangman and his family. They don’t talk to him more than what is necessary. They cross the street, cross themselves, and avoid eye contact whenever he passes by—for he is considered bad luck. He has to sit at an assigned table in the local pub and in church. The hangmen families interbreed because nobody outside the trade will marry their children.

    Jakob Kuisl is not just a hangman who knows how to torture and to kill. He is responsible for collecting the waste of the street (this is before indoor plumbing). He also is very wise to homeopathic medicine and human anatomy, and many of the people—despite their fear—come to him when they are sick. The local doctors and barbers resent him because he steals their business, and he tends to do a better job than they do at a cheaper price. They consider him a quack because he supports theories that are disputed by university doctors, such as that the heart is an organ that transports blood all over the body.

    Jakob Kuisl teams up with a young doctor when orphaned children start getting murdered in his village. The children all have a symbol painted on their backs which makes the villagers suspect witchcraft. The local mid-wife becomes the scapegoat for allegations. Kuisl knows she is innocent, and he does not want to torture one of his few friends.

    His task is complicated by the town’s council members, who want the woman to confess to avoid a witch hunt that might bring more women to the stake. They know that an overseer will not be happy with just one witch. To complicate matters, there are arguments with other towns over trade and marauding soldiers who go around killing. The one person who holds a vital key is a little girl named Sophie, who has disappeared. Kuisl realizes he has a short amount of time to unravel the mystery before he is forced to burn the mid-wife for crimes she did not commit.

    Though it is called The Hangman’s Daughter, Kuisl’s daughter actually has a supporting role in the book. The two main characters are Kuisl and the young doctor that is in love with the hangman’s daughter. The book is well written with a strong plot and interesting characters. I would recommend it for history buffs and mystery/crime lovers. Kuisl actually employs many methods of forensic investigation in trying to find out the murderer.
    I don't care if the glass is half full or half empty, I'm just glad to have a glass.

  2. #2
    All are at the crossroads qimissung's Avatar
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    May 2008
    Lost in the bell's curve
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    Sounds like a great read, SilentMute.
    "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its' own reason for existing." ~ Albert Einstein
    "Remember, no matter where you go, there you are." Buckaroo Bonzai
    "Some people say I done alright for a girl." Melanie Safka

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