*I got this book at BEA from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. You can order it from Indiebound here.
In 17th-century Bavaria, the hangman’s trade is one that leaves him an outsider – reviled by those who pass him but awe-inspiring to the community because of his power, the man whose hands mete out torture and execution is not one with whom anyone associates. But Jakob Kruisl comes from a long line of hangmen and after helping with an execution when he’s young, he’s not quite sure he wants that inheritance.
After a stint in the war, though, Jakob realizes he can kill indiscriminately or kill those the court has deemed guilty. He chooses the latter. However, when a young boy is killed brutally and is found with the witch’s sign on his back, midwife Frau Stechlin, who delivered Jakob’s children, is accused of witchcraft and murder. Knowing the woman is not a witch but a healer (always a dangerous calling) and tortured by his task to cause her pain and execute her, Jakob, his daughter Magdalena, and Simon – a local doctor interested in Jakob’s progressive medical knowledge – endeavor to find who is behind the killing. As more and more orphan children are killed, townspeople report sightings of the devil, a man with a scarred face and a left hand made of white bone. Jakob must fight superstition and outsmart the town council and “the devil” to save the midwife, the other orphan children, and his family.
What I liked: Everything. This book was engrossing. I started it Monday night and stayed up entirely too late devouring it. The book was translated by Lee Chadeayne, and there were moments when I felt it was a bit simplistic, but eh – still loved it. The setting, both place and time period, were well done, and the witchcraft story was incredibly tense: I’m talking sweaty palms. However, The Hangman’s Daughter is an odd title because, though Magdalena is in the story, the book was much more about Jakob, the compassionate, progressive, ethical hangman.
Book Club Questions: Do stories of witch hunts fascinate you? The paranoia and fear petrify me. What other books featuring witch hunts have you read? Also, the book has great discussion of midwives and healers and the scrutiny they faced. Why do you think this was/is?
jenn aka the picky girl