By Oliver Pötzsch
Before I got distracted by Isaac Marion’s zombies, I read The Hangman’s Daughter and was struggling with writing a review. It is difficult because the book has two very different themes. On the one hand it is a fairly run-of-the mill murder mystery, with somewhat slow plotting. On the other hand, it is a meticulously researched account of Bavaria in 1659 which is not a time or a place I am terribly familiar with. (The author actually is, though; he is writing about his own ancestors and used a lot of personal family papers in his research.)
I enjoyed it all-in-all, but it wasn’t an easy read. The mystery, for me, took second place to the historical aspects, which were fascinating but also disturbing. It turns out Bavaria in 1659 is not a terribly pleasant place to be, especially as a woman.
The accusation of witchcraft was still a prevalent and valid police matter and was dealt with quickly and brutally. Most shocking for me was how many of the characters didn’t actually believe in the charges of witchcraft, but still went along with it out of fear or convenience. The author makes a point of showing how accusations of witchcraft were used very deliberately to keep women in a subservient place, particularly those like midwives who had knowledge and careers of their own.
It was too historically realistic to be the fun murder mystery I was hoping for after The Shining, but it was undeniably interesting. Just know what you are getting into; the protagonist is the hangman (his daughter is disappointingly peripheral for being the title character, but I guess that fits in with the time period) and he does his job as both hangman and interrogator. Not exactly for the weak of stomach.
Addendum: as I was looking for a photo of the book cover, I ran across other reviews of The Hangman’s Daughter, which were all a lot more critical than mine but with which I generally agree. It makes me think that I’m just not a very critical person, which is a little unfortunate when writing for a book-reviewing blog.