October 18, 2011

Review: The Hangman's Daughter

The Hangman's Daughter
The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While the meticulously-researched historical milieu of 17th Century small-town Bavaria is impressive and a fascinating window on the time, especially regarding the cultural, religious, and professional lives of its citizens, and I personally love a good witch trial investigated by a progressive executioner and aspiring doctor, the narrative itself is pretty poky through most of the book, with a long, slow middle, and with a solution to the mystery that's telegraphed hours ahead of time. Yes, the story picks up some nice suspense in the last acts, with all the threads coming nicely to an exciting boil, but the payoff is limited. Besides the excellent setting, the best part of the book is the characters, with likable main figures and a hissingly despicable villain. However, those characters are let down with some stiff dialogue (perhaps an issue of the translation), and quite a lot of dragging, repetitive narrative. Descriptions are decent throughout, with solid narrative prose, but it was definitely a long haul getting through the investigations and waiting in the middle of the story to get to the more involving final set-piece.

Luckily, some nicely bloody and viscerally violent moments perk up the story, resuscitating it when it drags -- the book does star an executioner, after all, who is also a torturer (and, straining belief slightly, an educated herbal healer).

While difficult to recommend because of the story's pace and success as a mystery, nevertheless I enjoyed the well-rendered and researched environment.

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