The Hangman's Daughter (Hangman's Daughter Series #1)

The Hangman's Daughter (Hangman's Daughter Series #1)

by Oliver Pötzsch


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Magdalena, the clever and headstrong daughter of Bavarian hangman Jakob Kuisl, lives with her father outside the village walls and is destined to be married off to another hangman’s son—except that the town physician’s son is hopelessly in love with her. And her father’s wisdom and empathy are as unusual as his despised profession. It is 1659, the Thirty Years’ War has finally ended, and there hasn’t been a witchcraft mania in decades. But now, a drowning and gruesomely injured boy, tattooed with the mark of a witch, is pulled from a river and the villagers suspect the local midwife, Martha Stechlin.

Jakob Kuisl is charged with extracting a confession from her and torturing her until he gets one. Convinced she is innocent, he, Magdalena, and her would-be suitor to race against the clock to find the true killer. Approaching Walpurgisnacht, when witches are believed to dance in the forest and mate with the devil, another tattooed orphan is found dead and the town becomes frenzied. More than one person has spotted what looks like the devil—a man with a hand made only of bones. The hangman, his daughter, and the doctor’s son face a terrifying and very real enemy. 

Taking us back in history to a place where autopsies were blasphemous, coffee was an exotic drink, dried toads were the recommended remedy for the plague, and the devil was as real as anything, The Hangman’s Daughter brings to cinematic life the sights, sounds, and smells of seventeenth-century Bavaria, telling the engrossing story of a compassionate hangman who will live on in readers’ imaginations long after they’ve put down the novel.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547745015
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 08/02/2011
Series: Hangman's Daughter Series , #1
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 97,898
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Oliver Pötzsch, born in 1970, was for years a radio personality for Bavarian radio and a screenwriter for Bavarian Public Television. He is himself a descendent of the Kuisls, the well-known line of Bavarian executioners that inspired the novel. He lives with his family in Munich.

Lee Chadeayne is a former classical musician and college professor. He was one of the charter members of the American Literary Translators Association and is editor-in-chief of ALTA News.

Read an Excerpt

 OCTOBER 12, A.D. 1624

OCTOBER 12 WAS A GOOD DAY FOR A KILLING. It had rained all week, but on this Friday, after the church fair, our good Lord was in a kindlier mood. Though autumn had already come, the sun was shining brightly on that part of Bavaria they call the Pfaffenwinkel—the priests’ corner—and merry noise and laughter could be heard from the town. Drums rumbled, cymbals clanged, and somewhere a fiddle was playing. The aroma of deep-fried doughnuts and roasted meat drifted down to the foul-smelling tanners’ quarter. Yes, it was going to be a lovely execution.
 Jakob Kuisl was standing in the main room, which was bathed in light, trying to wake up his father. The bailiff had called on them twice already, and there was no way he’d be able to send him away a third time. The hangman of Schongau sat bent over, his head lying on a table and his long straggly hair floating in a puddle of beer and cheap brandy. He was snoring, and at times he made twitching movements in his sleep.
 Jakob bent down to his father’s ear. He smelled a mix of alcohol and sweat. The sweat of fear. His father always smelled like that before executions. A moderate drinker otherwise, he began to drink heavily as soon as the death sentence had been pronounced. He didn’t eat; he hardly talked. At night he often woke up screaming and drenched in perspiration. The two days immediately before the execution there was no use talking to him. Katharina, his wife, knew that and would move to her sister-inlaw’s with the children. Jakob, however, had to stay behind, as he was his father’s eldest son and apprentice.
 “We’ve got to go! The bailiff’s waiting.”
 Jakob whispered at first, then he talked louder, and by now he was screaming. Finally the snoring colossus stirred.
 Johannes Kuisl stared at his son with bloodshot eyes. His skin was the color of old, crusty bread dough; his black, straggly beard was still sticky with last night’s barley broth. He rubbed his face with his long, almost clawlike fi ngers. Then he rose to his full height of almost six feet. His huge body swayed, and it seemed for a moment that he’d fall over again. Then, however, Johannes Kuisl found his balance and stood up straight.
 Jakob handed his father his stained overcoat, the leather cape for his shoulders, and his gloves. Slowly the huge man got dressed and wiped the hair from his forehead. Then, without a word, he walked to the far end of the room. There, between the battered kitchen bench and the house altar with its crucifi x and dried roses, stood his hangman’s sword. It measured over two arm’s lengths and it had a short crossguard, and though it had no point, its edge was sharp enough to cut a hair in midair. No one could say how old it was. Father sharpened it regularly, and it sparkled in the sun as if it had been forged only yesterday. Before it was Johannes Kuisl’s, it had belonged to his father-in-law Jörg Abriel, and to his father and his grandfather before that. Someday, it would be Jakob’s.
 Outside the door the bailiff was waiting, a small, slight man who kept turning his head toward the town walls. They were late as it was, and some in the crowd were probably getting impatient now.
 “Get the wagon ready, Jakob.”
 His father’s voice was calm and deep. The crying and sobbing of last night had disappeared as if by magic.
 As Johannes Kuisl shoved his heavy frame through the low wooden doorway, the bailiff instinctively stepped back and crossed himself. Nobody in the town liked to meet the hangman. No wonder his house was outside the walls, in the tanners’ quarter. When the huge man came to the inn for wine, he sat alone at the table in silence. People avoided his eyes in the street. They said it meant bad luck, especially on execution days. The leather gloves he was wearing today would be burned after the execution.
 The hangman sat down on the bench in front of his house to enjoy the midday sun. Anyone seeing him now would hardly believe that he was the same man who had been deliriously babbling not an hour before. Johannes Kuisl had a good reputation as an executioner. Fast, strong, never hesitating. Nobody outside his family knew how much drink he used to down before executions. Now he had his eyes closed, as if he were listening to a distant tune. The noise from the town was still in the air. Music, laughter, a blackbird singing nearby. The sword was leaning against the bench, like a walking stick.
 “Remember the ropes,” the hangman called to his son without so much as opening his eyes.
 In the stable, which was built onto the house, Jakob harnessed the thin, bony horse and hitched it to the wagon. Yesterday he had spent hours scrubbing the two-wheeled vehicle. Now he realized that it had all been in vain. Dirt and blood were eating into the wood. Jakob threw some straw on the filthiest spots, then the wagon was ready for the big day. 

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Readers who like a plot-driven story with identifiable heroes and villains will be drawn to this ambitious novel. And unlike some stories in the genre, The Hangman’s Daughter  only gets better as the climax approaches — an exciting duel between the hangman and his nemesis. It truly delivers the thing so many of us look for in our novels: entertainment." —BookPage

 "This work seamlessly merges brutality and compassion, and its elegant plot, appealing characters and satisfying conclusion will keep the reader wide awake and turning pages well into the night." — Shelf Awareness for Readers

"The translator has done very well by the author; both setting and characters are vividly drawn, making for a compelling read . . . Based on the author's research into his own family history, this novel offers a rare glimpse into a less commonly seen historical setting. If you liked Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, give this a try." —Library Journal Xpress

"[Pötzsch's] novel reads quite vividly . . . Based on the author’s family history, this excellent story brings 17th-century Bavaria alive with all its fears, superstitions and politics. Jacob Kuisl is not your ordinary hangman, and readers will root for him and his search for the truth. There’s enough 'unreality' in the evil of superstitions that this novel may appeal to fantasy readers, and the twists and turns of the plot will appeal to mystery fans."—School Library Journal

"A brilliantly-researched and exciting story of a formative era of history when witches were hunted and the inquisitors had little belief in their methods beyond their effect in pacifying superstitious townspeople . . . Pötzsch, actually descended from a line of hangmen, delivers a fantastically fast-paced read, rife with details on the social and power structures in the town as well as dichotomy between university medicine and the traditional remedies, which are skillfully communicated through character interactions, particularly that of Magdalena and Simon. The shocking motivations from unlikely players provide for a twist that will leave readers admiring this complex tale from a talented new voice." —Publishers Weekly "This novel has been popular in Germany since its 2008 publication there, and it’s easy to see why . . . [Pötzsch] does an excellent job of telling the story and supplying the historical backdrop. And his characters . . . are extremely well drawn and believable. Kudos, too, to translator Chadeayne, who retains the story’s German flavor while rendering the text in smooth and highly readable English. Readers of historical fiction should find this very much to their liking." —Booklist  "I loved every page, character and plot twist of The Hangman’s Daughter, an inventive historical novel about a 17th-century hangman’s quest to save a witch—from himself." —Scott Turow

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Hangman's Daughter 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 88 reviews.
TheFourthMusketeer More than 1 year ago
This book is so good. Even though it deals with a somewhat dark subject, a hangman, it isn't overly gruesome. A great mystery that you won't be able to put down. You get swept up in the era and with the characters. It was really well written and researched. It is also really cool that the author has a personal connection to the actual people the story is based on. I highly recommend this book! Es ist sehr gut!
amt1010 More than 1 year ago
At first I thought this book was going to be about vampires and demons, but it wasn't at all. It's a great murder mystery and a fast read. The characters are very likeable and I love the time period. Great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The published, positive reviews of the book enticed me into making the purchase. Four months later, I finally opened the book and WOW I could not put it down!! The book took several days/nights to read (because of my busy work schedule) and let me tell you that when my co-workers told me I looked tired, yes I did because I simply couldn't put this book down at night when I should have been sleeping for work the next day. I'm not quite sure what it was exactly that made this book a superb read for me. I mean, from the moment I dove into the story, the decscriptive details pulled at me. The story line keep moving at a momentum that was not too fast, but fast enough to keep my interest and make me want to devour more. Obviously, the writer has performed his due diligence in researching much of the subject matter. I guess that's one thing that intriqued me...reading about a time in history that I am unfamiliar with, yet the emotions of the characters were just as current and vivid as if they existed today. I felt connected to the hangman, and his daughter, and the young doctor, and the children. The suspense kept me wondering all the way until the "secret" was revealed. I had no idea. I enjoyed this book tremendously, and would recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind losing sleep because you simply cannot put the book down!
Chele111 More than 1 year ago
This book is not available for the Nook, but I did not mind purchasing it. The title caught my attention. I glanced through the pages and liked what I read so I decided to purchase the book. The book kept me intrigued and interested with the characters and what was really going on. The character's you can completely come to like and automatically want to know more about. However, towards the end, starting with page 300 I thought the author dragged out the ending, like trying to fill in space with "just words" . It is a wonderful book to read and he really did not need to drag the ending out.well, more like the tunnel scene. Additionally, the title I'm still left with to guess why the author entitled the book "The Hangman's Daughter". I think it should have been more appropriately titled "The Hangman's Tale". The title was misleading. I was always left thinking, what about the Hangman's Daughter? Other then that it was a good book.
Lizbiz5396 More than 1 year ago
I am surprised this book doesn't have a higher rating. This book is amazing! If you like historical fiction, I think you'll definitely like this novel. This book is so well written. I could not put it down. It is a real page turner! I look forward to reading all of Jakob Kuisl's future adventures! Oliver Pötzsch is my newest favorite author.
LEHN More than 1 year ago
The historical aspect of this novel is amazing. I personally felt like it was a very accurate portrayal of life in this time period, with the grittiness, suspicions and the descriptions of the town. As interesting as all that is, the actual story and content of this book are really lacking. First, it's called THE HANGMAN'S DAUGHTER. Why? Beats me. She is a secondary character at best. Why not call it The Hangman, since he is the MAIN CHARACTER. Also, it sounds way more ominous, which I have to imagine is what Oliver was going for. Also — and this was the worst thing about the book for me, as I had been reading John Harwood and was hoping for a nice mystery that would really reveal itself only at the end — the "whodunit" is pretty obvious about halfway through the book. If you do decide to read this book, just pay attention and you'll see. I continued reading thinking it was a misdirect and there was no way it could be that obvious. Well, imagine my disappointment when in fact it was that obvious. Of course, it's not all Oliver's fault. I bought the book at an airport, and we should all know better.
bobbles2034 More than 1 year ago
At first I was reluctant to read this mainly based off the fact the cover didn't grab my attention right away and neither did the description, but my mom suggested it after she read it. She couldn't put the book down! When I started reading it, I thought "what did i get myself into?". This is not my normal book I usually pick up and read, and so I, in a way, was waiting for the book to be dry or just not entertaining enough, but wow! did i judge this book wrong! The more you read through the book it has a very additive quality where you just want to keep reading until the next chapter. The half way point of the this book is really what sold me. There are some big events (of course) and the story is set up real nice. Plus to make the story even better there's a side love story <3 SOLD! :] I would say there are 3 main characters, each which are very interesting people that you really start to love. My particular favorite, of course, is Magdalena because she is the rebellious, strong female type and considering this story is set in the 1600's I really enjoyed her character. The last few chapters for the book, the plot really gets to the point where you just need to KNOW what happens, i could not put the book down!
Wrighting4Fun More than 1 year ago
I read Hangman's Daughter earlier this year, and ff you are a fan of Umberto Eco's NAME OF THE ROSE or Josephine Tey's DAUGHTER OF TIME, then this book is right up your alley. The aspect of the author writing about a true historical figure that was also an ancestor was really interesting to me, and he did a great job bringing these characters to life. Am I really interested in the goings of of 17th century Bavaria? Not really, but I did enjoy the visit the author took me on. Some parts were kind on lengthy and perhaps superfluous, but that could just be my own American tastes--the book is translated (very well) from German. A nice read that kept me guessing to the end. The sequel had an interesting plot, but it was very reminiscent of Dan Brown--a group of Monks were after the Ultimate Templar treasure, a treasure that, once found, will change the course of the world. It takes place a few months after HD, in the winter, and the setting is finely integrated with the plot. The characters have changed, however. Simon isn't nearly as much of a dandy as he was in the first book, and I kind of missed that. The Hangman still knows everything, but he doesn't have that mysterious air he did previously. The novel was more thoroughly cleansed of inconsistencies, for which I am grateful for, but I missed all the same (it's like playing Where's Waldo with literature. Were bales of hay available before 1800? Nope, there were only haystacks...yet they are in the novel...). Still, it is an entertaining series that gets your brain moving, your blood pumping, and the villains are sadistically villainous. I will read on with this series because I know I'll be getting my money's worth of entertainment.
hope4acure10 More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be quite enjoyable and couldn't put it down.
clevinger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A disappointing read considering the potential of the subject matter. As an historical novel it is unconvincing, the two dimensional characters are either 'good' or 'bad' with the good characters anachronistically displaying 21st century reasoning and morality. The plot is simple and plodding, with no twists or unexpected turns. Too many Americanisms and modern expressions in the translation that jar with the supposed subject and context. The eponymous hangman's daughter is an under developed secondary character, with the hangman himself retaining the central role in the narrative. Apparently there are more novels in the series, but based on this evidence they are not worth the bother.
presto on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
1659, Jakob Kuisi the hangman in Schongau, a small Bavarian town, is called upon to extract a confession from the woman suspected of witchcraft after a young boy his pulled dying from the river, he has a strange symbol on his shoulder - a sure sign of witchcraft. The accused woman is the local midwife, she brought the Jacobs children into the world, he finds it hard to believe in her guilt. So he sets out to find the truth.He enlists the help of young Simon, the son of the local physician, who having a crush on the hangman's daughter is only too happy for an opportunity to prove himself to Jakob. As more bodies appear the case against the midwife appears to strengthen, but Jakob along with Simon begin to uncover a far more complex plot that may or may not be connected with someone of influence in the town. But will they be able to solve the mystery before the local court clerk has his confession has the midwife burned at the stake.The Hangman's Daughter is an intricate and complex mystery. Set against the background of suspicion and superstition, where it seems everyone is only too ready to point an accusatory finger at anyone who has anything to do with healing or is slightly out of the ordinary, Jacob and his eager assistant must act fast not just to save the midwife but to stop the inevitable witch-hunt, and the resultant burning at the stake of more local women, that will follow is she is found guilty. The resulting narrative is fast passed with plenty of edge-of-the seat moments, which escalate as the story reaches its climax.Well written and with well drawn characters, including Jacob the hangman, the strong man with a heart; Simon the small, slim, good looking and eligible university educated student of medicine whose eagerness sometimes over-reaches his wisdom; Magdelena, the hangman's intelligent and shrewd daughter; and the array of aldermen who range from the generally inept to the one young sympathetic alderman with some reason; and of course the sinister man in black believed to be the devil invoked by the midwife - there is never a dull moment. Add the that the detailed descriptions of life in mid-seventeenth century Bavaria with all the horrors of the filth and disease, high mortality, the prejudice born of ignorance, we have a vivid picture of life at the time. This is and enthralling tale and a surprisingly quick read despite being well in excess of 400 pages, helped in part by the occasional touches of humour, but due in the most part to the quality of the writing.
creighley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fast-paced novel. Enjoyed the story line ....the ending was slightly abrupt. No closure with any one character....
LaBibliophille on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Hangman¿s Daughter is an odd work of historical fiction by Oliver Potzsch. Originally written in German, it has become one of America¿s most buzzed about books. Perhaps some of the oddness is caused by the translation. Or because I don¿t really find that the story of an executioner in 17th Century Bavaria to be all that compelling.The people of Schongau are ignorant and poor. They are suspicious of any newcomer or of any new ideas. They toss human waste in the streets, and blame witches for the illnesses that befall the community. The justice system consists of the community leaders arresting someone, and torturing them until they confess. If they confess, they are therefore guilty and then executed. If they do not confess, they are tortured until they die. The moral: be nice to your neighbors!Hangman Jakob Kuisl is the most educated and forward thinking man in Schongau. While it is his job to torture and execute prisoners, he also possesses a working knowledge of herbs and cures. So while he is shunned by the community because of his profession, they also go to him when they are sick. His daughter Magdalena is supposed to marry someone from another executioner¿s family. However, she is love with Simon Schreevogl, the university-educated son of the town physician.As the book opens, a young boy is murdered. The midwife is arrested and accused of witchcraft. Villagers loot her house. Jakob believes in her innocence, and sets out to prove it with the assistance of Simon and Magdalena.I do think that many people will this book interesting and well-written. I found it dreary and disturbing. To each his own!
FremdeB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
very good..i liked it!
GTTexas on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Slowly builds up to a thrilling conclusion. Another enjoyable read that I found hard to put down.
Eren0317 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this via my Kindle, and it seemed like it took forever! I guess I was not as impressed with it as I thought I should have been. It was on sale on Kindle, and the hype for it made it sound really good. Guess it just wasn't my cup of tea. The writing was good, and the story was nice, but it just wasn't what I was expecting.
thornton37814 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jakob Kuisl is the hangman of Schongau in 17th century Bavaria. His daughter Magdalena is attracted to Simon, the son of the local doctor, even though such a relationship is forbidden in the culture. When orphans are found dead bearing a mark that is widely thought to be a sign of a witch, the local midwife is imprisoned. Jakob and other are convinced that she is not a witch, although it would be much easier if she were to just confess to the crime. It is up to Jakob, Simon, and Magdalena to find the truth behind the murders before Jakob has to kill the woman who brought his children into the world. I really enjoyed this tale based on the author's own family history. He, of course, has taken liberties with the story and plot, but it has brought to light the witch scares in Germany that preceded the one in Salem here in the United States. A great piece of historical fiction!
mssbluejay on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you are an experienced leisure reader and you are critical, this may not be the greatest book for you. If you are, like me, interested in a fun book to counter your day-to-day critical reading (e.g. academic), this is a great story. Sure, I found some things in the story and the writing that could have been better, but it kept my interest throughout.
taletreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm not usually a fan of historical novels, but I am a fan of thrillers. Together, The Hangman's Daughter had me reeling in suspense, mystery, and intrigue. Although I wasn't a fan of the beginning, as soon as the story begins unraveling, there's no turning back! I loved the main characters and I even loved the antagonist (and by love, I mean I hated him!) The action scenes were well done and had you either shouting or swirling about, imagining what the characters were going through. I absolutely cannot wait to begin The Dark Monk. As much as I loved the first book, I can only hope the second book in this series will be able to compare.
bloodbanker1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a wonderful book. The characters came alive and made you truly care about what happened to them. It is also a lesson in the justice system of the past.
lindawwilson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
THe first half of the book was engaging and seemed promising. The second half was uninteresting. Could not finish the book.
MrsMich02 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Easy to forget that this is a fictionalization of parts of the author's own ancestry. Well done.
opiatewave on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting historical fiction mystery thriller piece with its highs and lows. As some of the other reviewers mentioned, it has some pretty graphic details inside - in fact, if child murder and the torture of prisoners turn you off then maybe you should try another book. But if you like a quick read mystery thriller you will like this book. Overall, I found the story interesting. A couple notes about its shortfalls. Chief among them is the "multiple protagonist" dilemma. The title suggests that Magdalena, the hangman's daughter, would be the main protagonist. But she's somewhat relegated to third in line here. Reading the first chapter, I thought the hangman himself was the main hero. And although he seemed to get a fair share of the mystery solving action in the novel, it appears his character's importance was diminished somewhat by Simon Fronweiser, the third protagonist. The book moves from hangman to "quack physician" often, and I found it somewhat disjointed. After a while though I got used to the idea of multiple protagonists - think Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia and you'll understand that if you were to apply their roles to Potsch's book that Simon = Luke (complete with whining), The Hangman = Han, and Leia obviously is Magdalena. The other things I found disappointing about the story were the action scenes and the villain characterizations. They seemed trite and formulaic. Aside from that, I enjoyed the historical and alchemical references and the mystery / allusions of witchcraft. I found that the character development was thorough and overall tone and environment well thought out. Finally, I couldn't shake the visualization of actor F. Murray Abraham in the role of Johann Lechner. Perhaps because his depiction of Bernardo Gui in the film adaptation of The Name of the Rose was fresh in my mind when I started this book.
Alinea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Magdalena, the clever and headstrong daughter of Bavarian hangman Jakob Kuisl, lives with her father outside the village walls and is destined to be married off to another hangman¿s son¿except that the town physician¿s son is hopelessly in love with her. And her father¿s wisdom and empathy are as unusual as his despised profession. It is 1659, the Thirty Years¿ War has finally ended, and there hasn¿t been a witchcraft mania in decades. But now, a drowning and gruesomely injured boy, tattooed with the mark of a witch, is pulled from a river and the villagers suspect the local midwife, Martha Stechlin.Jakob Kuisl is charged with extracting a confession from her and torturing her until he gets one. Convinced she is innocent, he, Magdalena, and her would-be suitor to race against the clock to find the true killer. Approaching Walpurgisnacht, when witches are believed to dance in the forest and mate with the devil, another tattooed orphan is found dead and the town becomes frenzied. More than one person has spotted what looks like the devil¿a man with a hand made only of bones. The hangman, his daughter, and the doctor¿s son face a terrifying and very real enemy. Taking us back in history to a place where autopsies were blasphemous, coffee was an exotic drink, dried toads were the recommended remedy for the plague, and the devil was as real as anything, The Hangman¿s Daughter brings to cinematic life the sights, sounds, and smells of seventeenth-century Bavaria, telling the engrossing story of a compassionate hangman who will live on in readers¿ imaginations long after they¿ve put down the novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago