Friday, February 25, 2011

Book three: The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch.

If you're looking for 17th Century's answer to Stieg Larsen's Lisbeth Salander novels, Oliver Potzsch's The Hangman's Daughter might be your answer.  Although it might be better to describe this book as a 17th Century Bavarian Sherlock Holmes tale.

Jakob Kuisl, the book's central character, is the village hangman, which means he is responsible for torturing criminals to extract confessions. And then burning them at the stake, hanging them, or decapitating them should their crimes warrant it.  He's a surprisingly sympathetic character considering the demands of his career.

He's thrown into a troubling mystery when a child with a strange mark turns up murdered. Soon rumors of witch craft are burning through the village.  And as more children with the mark turn up dead or missing, the town leaders brand the village midwife (who is obviously innocent) as a witch and seek her confession so they can burn her and end the matter before it gets out of hand.

Jakob, daughter Magdalena (the 17th Century equivalent of Lisbeth Salander), and their trusty side-kick Simon, the physician's son (a dandy Watson to Jakob's Holmes) set out through the dark, sinister underworld of Bavaria in the 1600s to prove the midwife's innocence and bring the true criminals to justice.

This book is a fun, scary, intense read with a brilliant villain.  (He comes complete with a prosthetic hand made from the real bones of his hand after it had been severed.)

As with most mysteries, there is plenty of redundancy as the writer regularly reminds you of important details so that when we arrive at the "it's-elementary-my-dear-Watson" moment, we'll all see that the ending was obvious all along.  But even with that annoyance, The Hangman's Daughter is an engaging, thrilling read.

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