My Thoughts About The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch (Book Review #66)

Set during the early 17th century Germany, this historical thriller novel follows the story of an executioner(hangman) Jakob Kuisl with his daughter, Magdalena, and her lover, an apothecary, by the name of Simon. The work entails torturing of people accused of crimes during trials and performing all public executions during those times. This work is being handed down by elders to their sons and what comes with the duties are the psychological hardships that each needs to go through for being a hangman which includes public scrutiny to them and their families. The author is a direct descendant of the Kuisls, a real family of hangmen in Germany. Cool, right?


The story revolves around the three main characters trying to rescue the life of a lady, the local midwife, who was charged to be beheaded because of the rumors that she’s a witch and she’s the one causing the problems the town is experiencing. Jakob is willing to fight for her life because he believes that she is innocent. Being a healer for the less fortunate, Job is well acquainted with the midwife and he doesn’t believe that she has something to do with it.

The body of a young boy with a tattoo on his back, which is a sign of witchcraft, started it all. Speculations and rumors brought the councilmen and the townspeople to the local midwife’s doorsteps. The councilmen is determined to indict the woman for her to confess so that they can close the case before panic spreads. While on trial, new bodies turned up dead. It’s basically like a 16th century Sherlock Holmes story.

The opening salvo of the novel got me hooked immediately. The description of the scenes were well pronounced. It’s not too graphic as anyone would expect from a novel whose theme is about the old days of Europe where the punishment of crimes includes hanging and beheading. The book has this exact amount of drama, mystery, thrill and romance to it.

If you want to know who is responsible for anything, ask who benefits from it.
― Oliver Pötzsch, The Hangman’s Daughter

What I like most about the book is how the author created the world of the story. I can say that he made an incredible job with his research. The details about how the people live and about how he describes the people and the community during those times, as a whole, worked well with how he incorporated it with the story. I like how he was able to capture the scenes from the panoramic landscapes to the foul sidewalks and alleys and vile brothels. The author was also able to capture the emotions of the people thru words as the story progress, how the town is swept by fear and avarice. The story is fictional but the executioner, his family, the setting and historical background are all real.

I just have reservations with the title. Even though the daughter, Magdalena, played a vial role in the story I don’t think she deserves to have the title name. I was only able to get a glimpse of her midway of the book. Her character only became very imminent on the last quarter of the book. They could just have the title as “The Hangman.”

Overall, the book is good. I like how the author narrated the story. I like how the novel gave me a glimpse of how Germans lived during the medieval period. And I like how the story will keep you guessing who the real culprit is as a lot of the characters could pass as the culprit. The story is weave beautifully to bring a nice plot. I like how the novel made me have a feeling of not wanting to live in that era, because personally I am not sure if I’ll survive during those times. The story for me, somewhat like show that you must not judge a person based on the work he does or his physical appearance unless you really know that person. And each person has his own story to share where everyone can learn.

It’s the wrong people that suffer, not the poor.
― Oliver Pötzsch, The Hangman’s Daughter

4 stars out of 5.

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