If you like: murder * whodunits * historical fiction
The Hangman’s Daughter is a story of alleged witchcraft, murder, and execution. We follow Jakob Kuisl, the town executioner, as he attempts to find a killer before he is forced to torture and murder the local midwife who has been wrongly accused. He works with a young physician, who is also his daughter’s suitor, to investigate despite the superstitions of the townsfolk. Time is of the essence as the two attempt to locate missing children and solve the crime before it is too late.
Superstition plays a powerful role in The Hangman’s Daughter. As a member of an established line of executioners, Kuisl draws out the superstitious nature of the townsfolk. They respect his abilities and capabilities, but are hesitant to get too close to him. This both helps and hurts him during his investigation. The fear allows him to push the limits of what a normal man could get away with, but it also prevents people from coming to him with information. Superstition also leads to a fervor in the town over witchcraft. Though no one wants to repeat the horrors during the witch burnings of the prior generation, the first signs of the unknown terrify the people into acting irrationally. Rather than finding the true criminal, it is much easier to blame one “witch" and execute her before the fear leads to mass hysteria. Fear of the devastation does not outweigh the fear of witchcraft.
Perceptions and appearances are also a key part of The Hangman’s Daughter. Many of the burghers in town are much more worried about their profits and their own position than the lives of the general people. What does it matter if an orphan is killed or an innocent woman is murdered – as long as one's wealth and position are maintained life goes on. Many who are hoping to profit from this opportunity would rather come by a guilder in any way they can, even if they know what they are doing is wrong or a lie. The rhetoric used in the town to gain favor for the political motives is not unlike the present day political climate. How you say something is much more important than the substance that is behind it. Fearing the others – those who might not maintain the same outlook and practices you do – will always lead people to act in the most baseless ways.
If you just saw your neighbor go flying on her broom, read The Hangman’s Daughter.
Pötzsch, Oliver. The Hangman's Daughter. New York: AmazonCrossing, 2010. Kindle Edition.