The Hangman’s Daughter is the first book in a series written by Oliver Potzch, and are apparently based on the life of the author’s great great something or other, and are based in Bavaria in the mid-1600s. Normally one would refer to that time period as early Renaissance, but at least in the world of these books, the setting is definitely medieval.
Jakob Kusil is the hangman (executioner, torturer, garbageman, semi-doctor) of Shongau, a small walled town in Bavaria. Because Kusil is shunned by the townspeople (except for when they need him), he lives outside the walls, in the stinky part of town. He’s the son and grandson of executioners, and executioners are only allowed to marry the kids of executioners or some other sort of persona non grata. The whole social structure is very interesting, and way too much to go into here. Jakob has a daughter (of course) named Magdalena, although she doesn’t feature as heavily in the story as one would think.
Jakob is also probably the smartest guy in town. The second-smartest guy is probably Simon, the local “doctor’s” son, who is also a sort-of doctor himself. Both Jakob and Simon, along with another Jakob (Schreevogel) are the local renaissance men, although pretty much everyone else is well mired in the dark ages. This may have something to do with the war with the Swedes, and the remoteness of the location.
There is a series of murders, several young kids turn up dead with odd symbols on their shoulders, possibly a witch’s mark. So the townspeople of course blame the midwife (witch, bitch, same diff). Jakob knows she’s not guilty, but he still has to throw her in jail and torture her (standard operating procedure, she can’t be executed unless she confesses. Or she could die under torture. They’d be happy either way). Jakob tries to buy time so he can solve the murders and save the midwife.
A lot happens in this book, which is well-written. The story flows along nicely, even though I had to interrupt my reading a couple of times to look up the history parts. I’ve also read the next two books in the series, and pre-ordered the fourth. And as proof of how much I enjoy the books, I recommended them to my mother, who is in the middle of the second book.