Apr 28, 2012

The Hangman's Daughter, by Oliver Potzsch

This is a murder mystery set in medieval Germany, which is not generally the type of book I go for. I have to give Potzsch major credit for describing the setting so well. I studied medieval history, and very few non-academic authors can really convey the world of medieval Europe. Potzsch does a fantastic job of bringing to life the completely different worldview that existed at that time. It seems hokey and contrived to us now to describe the average town as being as superstitious and blindly believing as Potzsch paints the townspeople of Schonberg, but they were. Devils and demons, witchcraft and spells were very real things to medieval Europeans, and even though the decidedly secular culprit is revealed at the end, this doesn't take away from the fact that witches were more than simple scapegoats. Potzsch does a great job of imbuing his characters with the credulous faith of their time. The plot was quite good as well, just the right amount of information to keep you guessing and involved in the mystery. What was rather lacking was the writing itself. It's difficult to say what the problem actually is since this is a work translated from German; is it Potzsch's writing, or clumsy translating? I can't say for sure since I obviously cannot compare it to the original, but the writing was a little bit cliched and trite. The hangman "grins" quite an awful lot, and the eponymous daughter has black eyes that are mentioned perhaps a bit too often. Despite the lackluster writing, the story is great, and I really must commend Potzsch for his portrayal of a surprisingly complex time.

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