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1,182 of 1,248 people found the following review helpful
on December 26, 2010
The Hangman's Daughter seems to be one of this year's buzz books. I read a few professional reviews and it really seemed like an interesting story. Historical thrillers are like catnip to me, and this one is a translation from the original German book which was written by a descendant of the book's fictionalized main character. So, my hopes were high. Unfortunately, the writing in the book was uneven enough that the overall package was not as terrific as I'd hoped.

This book tells the tale of Jakob Kuisl, a hangman with a heart in a small Bavarian town in the 1600's. Naturally, his daughter also has a role in the book, though she is not as prominent as one might expect from the title. In any event, some murders in the town result in the arrest of a midwife for witchcraft, and Jakob and some other well-meaning citizens try to solve the mystery before time runs out for the midwife. Meanwhile, the majority of the village's aldermen are uninterested in the truth and are only interested in protecting their money. The historical aspects of the story are very interesting, and the beginning of the book got off to such an excellent, riveting, and fast-paced start that I recommended it to a friend when I was about halfway through. Unfortunately, things started to slide downhill after that (if you are reading this: sorry Amanda!).

The biggest problem with the book were the 'action' scenes. After the mystery is laid out there is a lot of chasing and hiding and fighting, etc, but not enough to hold my interest. These were sections where I was skimming just to get through them. In addition, by the time the action started, I found myself not caring overly much about either the villains or the heroes in the story. In particular, he villains weren't really well characterized and started sort of blending together. It was hard to work up much of a desire to see them thwarted. I did very much like the character of Jakob. If it were up to me it would have been all about the hangman, not about his daughter.

In summary, this book had a great premise and an excellent, compelling start. Unfortunately the second half of the book did not live up to the first. Bottom line: I think the book has been over-rated. However, if I'd only read the first half I'd be raving about it, too.
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909 of 983 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This English edition of "The Hangman's Daughter" is Lee Chadeayne's translation of "Die Henkerstochter", by Oliver Potzsch. (There's an umlaut over the "o" in his name, but I don't know how to make that!) The mystery's last chapter is titled "A Kind of Postscript", where Potzsch describes how he is a descendent of the real-life Kuisl executioner family. He uses the names of a real forebear for his protagonist, Jakob Kuisl, the offical town hangman, and Jakob's immediate family. Though Potzsch has researched the life and times of a Bavarian hangman and the town he lives in, this particular storyline, murder and other characters are fictional.

This is very interesting stuff. As is made clear in the novel, executioners were necessary for carrying out legal death sentences, but they and their families were shunned outcasts. They pretty much married only within other executioner families. In addition, executioners were the torturers back when a confession through torture was the legal method of determining guilt. Humans have unlimited ability to rationalize anything. So a suspect is tortured until she confesses to the crime. She is not guilty until she confesses. The torture continues until she confesses, after which she is put to death, or until she dies from the torture without confessing. The moral of the story is, don't make anyone mad enough to blame you for something.

I guess when I think "tried for witchcraft", I usually think "Inquisition". But it wasn't just the church that held trials for accused witches. Anybody could claim injury from a witch, and the secular authorities held their own trials for witchcraft.

For example, the 1692 Salem Witch Trials were secular.* And it's the same in "The Hangman's Daughter". A midwife is accused of witchcraft and murder. Jakob Kuisl must legally torture her for the politically expedient guilty verdict the village council desires. However, Jakob doesn't believe she's guilty, and takes it upon himself to find the real murderer. The mystery takes place in Schongau, a village in 1659 Bavaria (there was no German state yet). I'm not sure when Bavaria outlawed legal torture, but I'll take Potzsch's word for it that it survived in Bavaria to this time.

I liked the characters in this book. Actions and reactions ring true, even if they are sometimes over the top. You have the super-practical Jakob who still has to get drunk the night before an execution. His daughter, cut from the same cloth. Simon, son of the local quack, who can't get any respect because he's into new-fangled medicine instead of bloodletting and purging. The court clerk, intelligent, but willing to cut any corner to avoid a scene in his town. The village burgomasters, running the gamut from young & idealistic to old & drunk.

I'm rating "The Hangman's Daughter" four stars for the plotting and characterization and five stars for the historical interest. It is a long book and can get just a bit wordy. This does not have the pace of a thriller. Incidentally, don't let the occupation of Jakob Kuisl worry you. There is no graphic violence or even graphic language.

* Though the accused in Salem were mistreated before sentencing, only one was technically tortured. Eighty-year old Giles Corey refused to enter a plea, as a protest against the court's mania. In an effort to force a plea, the court ordered that stones be piled on his chest until he couldn't breathe. It took him two days to die and he never entered a plea.

I am reviewing from the Advance Reader's Copy Uncorrected Proof.

Happy Reader
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502 of 577 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2011
I'm truly baffled by the rave reviews this book has received! I agree that the first chapter was extremely graphic, exciting and promised to be a fascinating book. However, after that it read like the books my son read when he was 13 years old. It was one cliche after another along with phrases that would not have been used in the 1600's: "That was the devil. And he's got away from us. All because you crapped your pants." Then, "If we don't have the true culprit by then, they won't screw around for long, the midwife will be done for." I'm mean COME ON!!! It wasn't until the end of the book (after the third chapter, I was so ready for it to end) that I learned it had been translated. I'm wondering if the author realizes that the English translation is filled with so many ridiculous and banal phrases!!?!! I sure wish I understood German because I'm sure that version is more authentic and reads like a true novel. The translator was lazy and made no effort whatsoever.
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179 of 206 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 12, 2010
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The sensory-descriptive writing of Oliver Potzsch takes one back in history to that place in time near the end of the Renaissance and before the Enlightenment where beliefs in witches empowered by the devil were still strongly held in the Bavarian town of Schongau. His startling prologue about the gory execution of Elisabeth Clement in October 1624 by Jakob Kuisl's father, the town executioner, sets the stage for the novel's main story thirty-five years later involving Jakob as the new executioner, his daughter Magdalena, and her love interest Simon Fronwieser, the town's physician's son. The witch trials and executions of numerous women from years ago have cooled down, but the recent death of a child bearing a witch's mark threatens to revive them. Since the child and some of his comrades who turn up missing were with the midwife Martha Stechlin, she is arrested and held in the town's keep to be tortured by Kuisl for a confession. Martha assisted Kuisl's wife in the birth of Jakob's own children. He, his daughter, and Simon believe she is innocent and act as detectives to find the true murderer with the hope of saving Martha from execution.

One of the elements that makes this novel so moving is that Kuisl doesn't enjoy torturing and killing innocent people. He has a conscience. He also believes in God, although he finds God more in the beauties of nature than in mankind. Nonetheless, he inherited the job from his father who inherited it from his father. It is just a job, and when he tortures innocent people, including Martha, he realizes that if he didn't do it, someone else would. His affection for Martha, even assisting her to endure the suffering he inflicts, is unforgettable. It is also interesting that he has the same interest in herbs and natural medicine (including alchemy) as the midwife. In fact, he also shares this interest with Simon who, unlike his father who is old school, seeks the benefits of newer advances in medicine and comes to the hangman's house to read books from his private library which include works by Paracelsus and a book titled "Surgical Armory" by Johannes Scultetus, the city physician of Ulm, which "was so new that probably not even the University of Ingolstadt had acquired it yet".

Other interesting aspects of the story involve a shadow-lurking, scarred character with a hand of bone known as "the devil" as well as a treasure hunt. One is also introduced to political figures such as Johann Lechner, the court clerk, whose desire to sacrifice the "witch" for the good of the community will rub many readers the wrong way, although it contributes to the tension of the novel. If one is wondering about the novel's title, one will have to read the story to find out why Potzsch chose it, although some may read it and still wonder why the author chose this title since Magdalena's role may seem minor compared to that of Jakob Kuisl and Simon Fronweiser. Personally, I believe the title is a good one (and that she plays a critical role). Again, I want to emphasize that the author is a master wordsmith when it comes to setting the mood of time and place. Not only the social dynamic with its beliefs about certain professions (including the belief that a respectable doctor shouldn't court or marry a hangman's daughter), but also the physical surroundings - including the practice of dumping the contents of chamber pots in the streets - is described very well. Although I read an advance reader's uncorrected proof copy, I plan to purchase the final publication when it comes out.
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135 of 160 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2011
How did 94 people not notice that this book wasn't very good?

I have no issue with simple prose especially if it is telling a compelling story. Considering this novel is a translation allowances must be made for differences in vernacular and language, but this novel succeeded in being both sensationalistic and unbelievably dull at the same time, one need not even focus on the banal prose to be disappointed. Each plot turn was more absurd than the next and aimed to provide cheap thrills rather than organic plot development. The characters were one note cliches with little depth. Setting the novel in historical Bavaria does not make this a worthy piece of literature. It simply makes it a cheap mystery, which required slightly more research than other cheap mystery novels.

Primarily I purchased this novel on the strength of the positive reviews. In general I am inclined to enjoy books in spite of their flaws, simply because I adore reading, but the blatant deficiencies in this novel were glaring. This book was just not very good. Normally I do not write reviews, but since the bulk of the reviews on here were so incredibly misleading, I couldn't resist. Save your money.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2011
Like others have mentioned I was fooled by Kindle's top rating of this book and for the price figured why not. It could have been easily 1/3 shorter and still gotten the point across. The plot ran like a never ending Scooby Doo episode - I would not have been surprised to read the Devil saying "and I would have gotten away with it if it hadn't been for you meddling kids". I respect what the author tried to do in honoring his ancestry but he needed some serious editing and better translation.
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64 of 75 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2011
The beginning of this story seemed promising, however it quickly went down hill. My main gripe about this book is that it is very difficult to become invested in the characters. The characters are all referred to by thier first and last names and the job title they hold in the village. In my opinion about 30% of this book are the names and job titles of characters. The story also moves very slowly. The reader is introduced to just about everyone in the village whether they are relevant to the story or not. It was just unneccesary and made me less interested in the story. It seemed like there was so much time creating the village, that the mystery suffered. At some point it seemed less about the mystery and more about who is who and what they do in town. All in all, if it were a shorter read and the author focused on the mystery maybe it would have been a great book.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 30, 2010
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There is an almost guilty pleasure in reading The Hangman's Daughter. The writing - and translation - is wonderful; the story glides along, quietly reeling you in until it's almost impossible to put the book down; and the ending is really fascinating. I especially appreciated the short author's note on the history behind the book and its setting.

Taking place in 1660 in Germany (those of you familiar with the alternative fiction world from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay will immediately be comfortable with this setting as it's the same era as that game), the book follows the story of a murderer or murderers hunting some of the town's children. The protagonists are the hangman (who does not believe the most "convenient" suspect is actually guilty), the hangman's daughter (an herbalist who is toying with becoming a midwife), and a young doctor who is growing increasingly frustrated with the state of medicine (or lack thereof) practiced during this time period. While the doctor may be a somewhat familiar archetype, particularly if you've read Ariana Franklin's series starting with Mistress of the Art of Death, I think it's reasonable to assume that during this time period, a number of these types of young professionals helped to propel the Renaissance into the Enlightenment; thus, I don't think the doctor character detracts in any way.

Throughout the story, there are a number of mysteries that pose interweaving threads. It's such a pleasure to read as Potzsch brings these threads together, then back away from each other again, then together again, over and over. All the while, one is thinking, "Well, this obviously means that X and Y are related" and then 20 pages later, "Oh, I see, X and Y could never be, must be that X is the cause of W and so that means that...." The result: a book that, by page 90 or so, is near impossible to set down.

Who is killing the children? Why? And why just some children and not others? Why couldn't the "convenient" suspect have done it? When will folks realize that some of the clues clearly contradict others - or maybe they do realize it and the "truth" is a bit more scary to them? And why does the hangman understand intuitively but yet is struggling to put clue 1 with clue 2 with clue 3 (and so on) together to build a better picture of who might be doing this? Okay, and who put clue 4 there? That throws off the whole puzzle the reader was building up until that point. Oh, but wait a minute...what about....

There's murder, witchcraft, mercantile intrigue, political intrigue, and just plain ignorance and superstition all working together to hide facts and confuse clues. Just brilliant.

The Hangman's Daughter is one of the best historical fiction / mystery / suspense books of 2010. I was really pleased to see that this is a series; I'm really looking forward to seeing the characters develop. I'm a bit leery to draw the comparison as inevitably someone will vehemently disagree, but in terms of historical mystery / suspense, Potzch has created a setting and story just as enjoyable as Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. Frankly, it's enough to make one want to learn German just to read the others in the series; I may check out Amazon's sister in the UK to see if they are already translated.
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63 of 75 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2011
This book was poorly written, poorly edited and hard to read. The author used no imagination whatsoever in his descriptions and I find it hard to believe a single person ever actually edited it before it was published. In addition to numerous typos I nearly threw my Kindle across the room after reading someone described as "the son of a powerful wagon drivers' family" (page 167, Locs 2681 and 2683) twice in the same paragraph. Also this gem made me nearly give up, "Jakob Kuisl clenched his fist around the rock so hard that the edges cut into his flesh" (Pg. 299) and "He had clenched the rock so hard that its edges had dug into his flesh like knives" (Pg. 301). Those are just the examples that come to mind among the many shortcomings this book has. The story was mediocre and the ending wasn't believable at all. This was probably the worst historical fiction I've ever read and I won't be recommending it to anyone.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating idea for a book, really. The author comes from a line of hangmen and he thought to write about them with a bit of compassion.

Jakob Kuisl is not only the hangman but the town torturer as well. Shunned by everyone in town, his daughter's only chance for a husband resides with the neighboring town's hangman's sons.

The book starts off with intrigue and suspense; the orphans of the town are being killed and the first and only suspect put forth is the midwife. She is thrown in jail and encouraged to confess by torture.

Sounds fascinating. And the first fourth of the book is. But then it starts to draaaaaaag. And it starts to leap around without ever landing on a real story. The hangman's daughter is superfluous to the whole story, appearing every now and then with an herb or medicinal plant from the forest.

I bought this book because of the mostly rave reviews it got. I was excited to settle into a great read.

Half way through and I just do not understand what the hype is for this book. in fact, I am astounded. The characters are flat and boring and the plot is plodding.

You've been warned.
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