Tag Archives: The Hangman’s Daughter

Review: The Dark Monk by Oliver Potzsch

15th August 2012

*I received this novel from the fantastic Farin at Mariner in exchange for an honest review.

First line: When the parish priest Andreas Koppmeyer pressed the last stone into place and sealed the opening with lime and mortar, he had just four hours to live.

It’s 1660, and Father Koppmeyer is poisoned after he discovers the possibility of treasure hidden by the Knights Templar in the Bavarian Alps. A mysterious monk who smells of violet watches beneath his hood as the discovery of the body is made, not knowing Koppmeyer left a clue as to the motive for his death.  Leaving only scratchings where he lay, Koppmeyer sets in action an adventure as hangman Jakob Kuisl, his daughter Magdalena, and the town physician Simon attempt to track down Koppmeyer’s killer and the legendary treasure, only to be slowed by the mysterious monk and his compatriots as well as a band of roving, vicious thieves.

The Hangman’s Daughter was an enchanting book, and I was thrilled to receive a copy of The Dark Monk by Oliver Pötzsch. I enjoyed this novel as well, but there were a couple oddities. I’m not sure if the translation, by Lee Chadeayne, is the issue or whether it’s the main text, but there were several words and phrases that pulled me out of the novel rapidly, so rapidly that I stopped and made notes, something I rarely, if ever, do. Flunkies, out of line, and hitting on were all used and seemed so out of place in 17th-century dialogue. Again, this could be the translation, but I don’t have the benefit of the original text (or the knowledge of the language) to determine which it is.

However, this didn’t lessen my overall enjoyment of the book, particularly as it’s the characters I enjoy. Simon and Magdalena are still uncertain of their feelings, knowing their relationship’s success is doomed from the start, as she is an outcast in society as the hangman’s daughter. I did expect a bit more of Kuisl and possibly his standing within the community, but it was evident that his feats have not raised his bearing within the town.

From the first of the book, the culprit is evident, so The Dark Monk is more a high adventure novel than a mystery. Here, unlike some of the more modern stories of Knights Templar lore, the legend is relatively fresh, and there are ancient churches still housing plunder within stone walls and crypts. Using riddles and historical references, Kuisl, Magdalena, Simon, and Koppmeyer’s fiery sister track leads, all while battling an unknown force that is out to stop them.

If you enjoy literary thrillers or anything having to do with church lore, The Dark Monk is your best bet. Add it to your shelf or check out other opinions on Goodreads.

The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch

9th June 2011

*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