29 July 2011

The Hangman's Daughter; Oliver Potzsch

The Hangman's DaughterThe Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historical mystery what is always dicey - that mix of the history with what people expect from a mystery needs to be delicately done. I think this is one of the better ones, with the History appearing somewhat organically rather than being a hook upon which to hang the mystery (much as I loved them, the Brother Cadfael's fall into that category).

The setting is superstition-laden Germany after then Thirty Years War, a time when witchcraft exists and doctors are, well, possibly more dangerous than the actual disease. And then there's the town hangman, a needed pariah. This fact is drummed into us virtually every chapter, one of the books flaws. The mystery surrounds the question of who killed one of the orphan boys? Of course, suspicion falls on the midwife, who of course is tolerated but is always a little suspect because women are not supposed to have knowledge or power. When a major fire breaks out, the new leper house runs into building issues and more children are found dead, it's clear that she's in league with the devil and should be tortured to death.

The hangman's actions and detective work sometimes require the reader to take a leap of faith; the relationship between his daughter and her semi-suitor (semi because he's the son of the town doctor, who is also suspect, but she's the daughter of the hangman and must not mix with/marry a townsman) was one of the realer aspects in the book. As the mystery unfolds, you get a lot of herblore thrown at you (with sometimes no explanation) and at times I wondered if the author expected readers to have greater knowledge of that time period than most will have. I also felt that the identities of the "devil" and his henchmen didn't need to be shrouded in as much mystery from the readers.

Still, if historical mystery is your cup of poison, this is a good book to read. It's doubtful this will become a series, a good thing.

ARC provided by publisher.

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