Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Hangman's Daughter

by Oliver Potzsch
translated by Lee Chadeayne

This book was on my reading list for several months before I finally broke down. My biggest reservation was the subject matter, German witch torture and trials in the 1600's, because I got my fill of the Salem witch trials when I was in high school; since that time I have pretty much avoided this topic. For whatever reason, I decided to go ahead with The Hangman's Daughter, I'm a sucker for titles!

The premise of the story is a small German town accusing the town midwife of being a witch after finding some dead children with strange marks drawn on their shoulders. The town's hangman and physician begin a mission to clear her name and avoid another witch-hunt, recalling the previous one in 1589 that led to nearly 60 of their women being burned at the stake. The idea had potential, but the execution just wasn't there (no pun intended). The first thing to put me off was the author's excessive use of similes, many that were odd in the context causing me to think about the comparison rather than the story and disrupting the flow of reading. Another thing that bothered me was the sensationalism, particularly during the chase section, which wasn't believable and seemed to drag on only to make the book longer. And a minor thing, I think the book would have been better named The Hangman of Schongau,  more reflective of the plot.

I did think the information about hangmen was interesting and apparently true to history. The author is a direct descendant of the Kusil dynasty, who were apparently the most famous line of hangmen in Bavaria. I also liked the controversy regarding the advance of medical knowledge and treatments that was universal during this time.

The book was an okay read, but not one I would enthusiastically recommend.  I am not sure if something was lost in translation?

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