The Hangman’s Daughter Series
I picked up The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch because I liked the cover art and the font used for the title. Yes, sometimes, I judge books by their covers but this time it worked out really well for me. Although the book is great, with an imaginative plot, intriguing characters and history oozing out of the whole story, what really caught my attention was how Pötzsch came up with the characters. In fact, he didn’t come up with them at all. They are actually his ancestors.
The Kusils were a famous family of executioners from the 16th to the 19th century in the town of Schongau, present-day Germany. From historical records Pötzsch found his ancestor Jakob Kusil, the town hangman, as well as his wife Anna Maria and daughter Magdalena. As a huge history buff, I loved reading these books and knowing they were based in truth and that the characters’ experiences and how they were treated and lived was accurate for the time. Of course Pötzsch’s books are pure fiction, what with possible witchcraft, crazy monks, secret societies and murders galore, but there is an underlying truth in his writing. The dialogue is not true to the time period, but if it was then it would feel a bit more like reading Shakespeare than a contemporary novel, so I don’t object.
Detailed descriptions of everything from the people to the weather and the apparently quite stinky town will make you feel like you are right there with the characters. And if you really enjoy these books, Pötzsch has included historical city guides at the back of most of them. Once you have read about Jakob and Magdalena Kusil running around Schongau you can actually go there and retrace their steps from the book. The uber nerd in me loves this idea and it shows how much research the author put into making the books authentic.
If you enjoy rich historical fiction or a head-scratching mystery (and don’t mind a little blood) then I highly recommend this collection. You can pick up any book in the series and enjoy the suspense of it but to understand the characters and grow with them I suggest you start at the beginning with The Hangman’s Daughter. Next is The Dark Monk, then The Beggar King and finally The Poisoned Pilgrim with hopefully more to follow.
Want something even more historic and gruesome? The Faithful Executioner by Joel F. Harrington is a nonfiction book with firsthand accounts from an actual sixteenth century executioner, Meister Frantz Schmidt of Nuremberg. Combining Schmidt’s diary entries, extensive historic research and art from the era this book will tell you more than you ever needed to know about an executioner’s life and work.