Set in 1659 in the Bavarian town of Schongau, The Hangman's Daughter introduces readers to hangman Jakob Kuisl, who must determine whether an ominous tattoo found on a dying boy means that witchcraft has come to town. Villagers suspect the local midwife, Martha Stechlin, and Kuisl is charged with extracting a confession from her and torturing her until he gets one. Convinced she is innocent, he, his daughter Magdalena,and the town physician's son (who is hopelessly in love with Magdalena though she is destined to be married off to another hangman's son) race against time in a quest to discover the true killer.
As Walpurisnacht approaches, the night when witches are believed to dance in the forest and mate with the devil, another tattooed orphan is found dead and the town becomes frenzied. More than one person has spotted what looks like the devil-a man with a band made only of bones. The hangman, his daughter, and the doctor's son face a terrifying and very real enemy.
Bringing to cinematic life the sights, sounds, and smells of seventeeth-century Bavaria, The Hangman's Daughter takes us back in history to a place where autopsies were blasphemous, coffee was an exotic drink, dried toads were the recommended remedy for the plague, and the devil was as real as anything.
About the author:
Oliver Potzsch was for years a radio personality for Bavarian radio and a screenwriter for Bavarian Public Television. He is the author of four Hangman novels, with The Hangman's Daughter being the first in the series. He lives with his family in Munich.
A Conversation with the author:
What inspired you to write The Hangman's Daughter?
The Hangman's Daughter is the story of my ancestors. Among my forefathers were fourteen executioners and until a few decades ago, talking about them was frowned upon-not to mention writing about them. My novels are therefore a kind of vindication of my forefathers. For the most part, in earlier times, hangmen were not sadistic murderers but rather human beings with feelings, fears-and astonishing skills. Who would have thought, for example, that executioners could also be known for their skills as healers?
Why did you name the book after the daughter and not just the hangman?
The Hangman's Daughter is a series that now spans four books. Whoever reads all of them will notice that Magdalena, the Schongau-hangman's daughter, takes an increasingly prominent role. The books portray the development of a dishonorable woman who frees herself, little by little, from her father's legacy and her ignominious past-and ultimately leads a liberated life. A fate that only a few children of hangmen were granted at that time.
A now-deceased cousin of my grandmother was the genealogist. In his house there was a huge archive that I could use for research-there, I discovered our family tree, which extends back to the sixteenth century. In addition, I paid many visits to city archives. I spoke with old herbalist women, grumpy ferrymen, beer brewers, and monks and local historians who were fond of drinking. Tradition is alive and well in Bavaria; one needs only find the right people who know the score.
Is the figure of Johann Jakob Kuisl historical? Is everything about his work factual?
The Schongau executioner Jakob Kuisl is truly one of my ancestors. Are his daughter Magdalena, the twins Georg and Barbara, and many other people populating my historical novels. Everything you learn about in The Hangman's Daughter books is corroborated by actual events. That goes not only for the torture, death at the wheel. beheadings, and hangings, but also for all the other functions of a hangman at the time. Hangmen were garbage men, skinners, pimps and bookies-and remarkably, respected healers and sorcerers too.
How important is genealogy in today's disconnected world?
In the past, people lived in large groups. They were embedded in their families, their trades, their locals. With that came many disadvantages, but sometimes it seems we're missing out on this kind of community. People are much more isolated today; we often live alone, and genealogy gives us the opportunity to feel like a part of a big family. Besides that, this community gives us a certain feeling of immortality: the individual dies; the family lives on.
*The above interview was provided by the publisher.
Many thanks to the publisher for providing me a review copy and an additional copy for the giveaway! (US Only)