Friday Morning Bookclub

September 10, 2011

The Hangman’s Daughter By Oliver Potzch/ Lee Chadeayne (translator)

The Hangman’s Daughter takes place in Bavaria. The year is 1659. When a young boy is discovered with fatal stab wounds and a strange mark on his shoulder the people of the small village of Schongou want answers.  Suspicion falls upon the local midwife, Martha Stechlin and she is not only accused of murder but also witchcraft.

Jakob Kuisl, is called in to do whatever it takes to get Martha to confess and he has quite an array of tools of torture at his disposal.  Jakob is a Hangman as was his father before him, however he is a kind man and does not enjoy torturing or killing people. Nor does he believe that Martha is guilty, but he has no choice and must do what he is told to do, lest he lose his job and his means for supporting his family. He can only stall so long, before being forced  to “put the screws” to Martha.

Jakob is determined to  find the real murderer. When another child turns up dead with the same strange mark on his shoulder and more  children begin to disapear, Jakob realizes that he is running out of time. With the help of his daughter Magdalena and  the physician’s son Simon, Jakob races to solve the mystery and save Marha’s life as well as to avoid another witch hunt.

I could not put this book down. Jakob Kuisl was such an intriguing man. He was the town Hangman. He tortured people and put them to death, yet he was  a compassionate person. He would do “his job” in the kindest way possible. It was not unusual for him to slip someone a pain killer before torturing them if he believed them to be innocent.

 What made this book even more interesting was the fact that the book was based on fact. The Kuisl executioner dynasty was one of the most famous dynasties in Bavaria and the author  Oliver Potzch was a desendant of this dynasty. Potzch even has  photographs of the original instruments of torture and a 200 year old master craftman’s diploma issued to Johann Michael Kuisl, the last Schongau’s hangman. More than 60 executions were performed by the Kuisl’s durng the 1589 witch trials. It was a job and someone had to do it!

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