I was able to read The Hangman’s Daughter and The Dark Monk, both by Oliver Pötzsch, for free, thanks to BzzAgent. Although this review is only for the sequel, they sent me a digital copy of The Hangman’s Daughter, too. I’m glad that I was able to read them in order, and while this is only a review for the second book, I can’t help but make comparisons. Author Oliver Pötzsch is German, and my understanding is that both books were first released in his home country, so a translator is also listed for each book. The books use different translators, however, and I think this is pretty noticeable.
In the first book, the reader meets Jakob Kuisl, hangman for a small Bavarian town. Kuisl has an interesting roll. He’s shunned and feared by members of the town, the same townspeople who use him for his medical skills and knowledge of herbs and medicine. His family, too, experiences the same shun, and his daughter is only allowed to marry another hangman or butcher. The Kuisl family is friends with a young doctor, Simon, who is in something of a relationship with Jackob’s daughter Magdalena. In the first book, which really isn’t about the hangman’s daughter at all, Jakob and Simon begin investigating murder’s of the town’s orphans, which the superstitious townspeople belief if the work of a witch. Before a pandemic breaks out, Jakob solves the mystery and saves the life of the midwife, who has been accused of witchcraft.
I went through The Hangman’s Daughter quickly. It was suspenseful. It interrupted my schedule. I would keep reading for just one more chapter, so I was excited to read the next book in the series. The Dark Monk gives a lot of information. The antagonists are all part of a religious sect, so Simon winds up running around Bavaria between churches and other religious areas to solve a riddle created by the Templars. Simon hopes to solve the riddle, while Jakob remains in their home town to deal with robbers who have plagued the trade routes for some time. In the middle, Magdalena gets caught up in the mystery and quarrels with Simon, who has made a new female friend.
While some readers complained that we only learned about Jakob Kuisl in the first novel, I’m not sure that the second novel portrays those other characters in a way that is convincing. Simon and Magdalena are supposed to be deeply in love, but I never believe it. They both just seem like silly and naive children. We see more of the antagonists, but the dark monks are simply crazy without ever being truly frightening.
As another reviewer commented on Amazon, it also seems like the plot is set up inn an unrealistic way, allowing the characters to stumble upon the next mystery, the next action scene. It’s not flawless set-up. It seems too contrived, and I quickly got sick of watching the characters run around the country and stumble onto the next piece of action. All in all, I had to force myself to finish the novel, and I didn’t feel particularly satisfied when it ended. This is partly because I couldn’t connect with Simon or Magdalena, but also because the characters were either motivated by religious insanity or simple curiosity. There was an overall lack of emotional involvement to pull me in, but The Hangman’s Daughter did have that.
However, I do find the entire ideal interesting. Oliver Pötzsch is actually a descendent of the real Jakob Kuisl, one of a line of Bavarian hangman. Although the stories fictionalize his life, I find it fascination that Oliver has begun to spin these stories about his ancestor, and it’s nice to step into a different era.
Luckily, this isn’t a super long novel, but I definitely don’t prefer the sequel to the original. There’s always the chance that if the author continues this series, which it seems like he will, I will enjoy other stories better. However, I did mention that I think the new translator affected my enjoyment. The English was awkward and repetitive. The translator frequently used the word “medicus” instead of “doctor”, which just sounds pretentious and out of place. I realize that this book doesn’t take place in 2012, but the wording was more natural in the first.
I would really only recommend The Hangman’s Daughter to fans of historical fiction, mystery or suspenseful books.