I’m normally not an avid reader of fiction. I generally prefer biographies and history, but every now and then I enjoy a good novel, especially mysteries and crime thrillers. Currently I’m part way through a novel that has been dubbed a “historical thriller.” The Hangman’s Daughter is a translation of Die Henkerstochter, a German novel written by Munich-born author Oliver Pötzsch. Three books in the Henkerstochter series are now available in German, but only the first one has been published in English, translated by Lee Chadeayne. It is a story of murder and witchcraft hysteria set in 17th century Bavaria.
Life in the small town of Schongau, even in the best of times, is rather unpleasant in 1659, about a decade after the Thirty Years’ War. But a series of murders of local orphans sets off a chain of events that makes life even grimmer for the townspeople of Schongau. People begin jumping to conclusions about a local midwife, and the town fathers’ sense of justice leaves a lot to be desired. Ironically, it is the town’s executioner (Henker), Jakob Kuisl, who leads the effort to actually solve the crimes and discover the truth. But the local leaders want him to use the usual method of torture to force a confession from the midwife, whom they now believe to be a witch.
I was attracted to the book for several reasons. Number one, I’m always interested in contemporary German writers, especially when their works get translated into English. Some recent examples include The Reader (Der Vorleser) by Bernhard Schlink and the sci-fi novel The Swarm (Der Schwarm) by Frank Schätzing. Number two, the The Hangman’s Daughter has an interesting publishing history, and I wanted to see for myself what the English version was like. The 2008 German book first appeared in English as an Amazon Crossing e-book. Only later (2011) did it get published in print (as a paperback) by Mariner Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
I also wanted to read the original German version, but I was a bit frustrated when I discovered that the German novel is not available in a Kindle edition – which would make it a lot more convenient to obtain it here in the US. We can blame Ullstein, the German publisher for that. (The English version is available in a Kindle edition.) I’ll have to wait a while before I can get the German print edition.
The author, Oliver Pötzsch, is a descendant of the historical Kuisl dynasty of hangmen. After tracing his ancestry, Pötzsch was inspired to write his historical “Hangman” novels, based on the information he discovered in his family research. But he has also written another recent novel based on the mystery surrounding the death of the Bavarian King Ludwig II (Die Ludwig-Verschwörung, “The Ludwig Conspiracy”).
I’m enjoying the novel so far. The translation is very readable, but I’ll have to wait a while before I can tell you my final opinion of the book.
If you’d like to learn more about contemporary German writers – including Pötzsch, Cornelia Funke and Frank Schätzing – and their works in English translation, I invite you to look at this GW page: Contemporary German Authors and Their Works. You’ll also find links to their books in English and German. Enjoy!