The Hangman’s Daughter, written by a descendent of the very family this historical mystery features, was already an international bestseller before being released in the U.S. And it’s not hard to see why; the novel’s page-turning plot keeps readers guessing, and the setting—1689 Bavaria—is no slouch, either.
While the book is called The Hangman’s Daughter, the character who seems to interest author Oliver Pötzsch the most is the hangman himself, Jakob Kuisl. A hulking creature who is ambivalent about his career as a state-approved murderer, the hangman proves to be smarter, faster, stronger, more sensitive, more decisive and (against all odds) the best doctor in town. Despite these remarkable credentials, he is also an outcast: lowly, disrespected and considered a sign of bad luck.
Our hangman has an unusual case on his hands. A group of orphans is being murdered one by one, and the town suspects the midwife of witchcraft. Tattoos that feature a witch’s sign in elderberry juice on the shoulders of the victims terrify the townspeople and stir up talk of a witch hunt. Meanwhile, a certain treasure has gone missing, and a group of itinerant soldiers seems to be pulling off all kinds of minor disturbances. Can the hangman and his friend Simon, a physician, figure out who really killed the orphans in time to save the wrongly accused midwife? Or is the midwife perhaps not what she seems?
Readers who like a plot-driven story with identifiable heroes and villains will be drawn to this ambitious novel. And unlike some stories in the genre, The Hangman’s Daughter only gets better as the climax approaches—an exciting duel between the hangman and his nemesis. It truly delivers the thing so many of us look for in our novels: entertainment.