Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Hangman's Daughter

For the past six months or so I have been seeing a lot of positive reviews for the novel The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch and I was intrigued. I have been wanting to try something in Amazon's Crossing publishing program. These are translated titles that Amazon themselves publishes in the U.S. This novel is historical fiction set in Germany in 1659, it's chubby coming in at 431 pages and Amazon priced it right at roughly $6. It's right up my alley. How could I resist?
This historical mystery begins with the unexpected death of a child. The boy is found to have what appears to be a satanic symbol on his shoulder and immediate cries of witchcraft race through the village. Then come more missing/dead children, angry mobs, false arrests, interfering officials, a gang of orphans and hidden agendas. Stepping up to solve the crimes and save the old midwife accused of witchcraft are the local hangman/village healer/closet intellectual and the new physician in town who is in love (the forbidden kind) with the hangman's daughter.

If the contemporary dialog doesn't make you give up on the book entirely then the historical trappings of the novel are enough to hold a degree of interest for you. The lives of executioners is certainly an untapped area in historical fiction and Potzsch brings up many interesting details of their lives but without any insight into their characters the book is like reading a kiddie encyclopedia. Potzsch does not bring anything new to the other historical aspects of the novel or indeed to the plot. It's too bad. The world of the hangman could have supported a much better written and researched novel.

Well, two softball games  later I'm done with The Hangman's Daughter. It was...a snooze. Who knows if it was the writing or the translation or a combination of both but this book was turgid. There is a lot of racing through town, breaking down doors doors, near misses, mysterious deaths and general mayhem combined with a potentially exciting setting and premise so it's a little surprising to me that I was so bored through most of this novel but there you have it. Go figure. The real mystery here is the one where bad writing killed an inviting idea placed in an under used setting.

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