Germany, 1660: When a dying boy is pulled from the river with a mark crudely tattooed on his shoulder, hangman Jakob Kuisl is called upon to investigate whether witchcraft is at play. So begins The Hangman's Daughter--the chillingly detailed, fast-paced historical thriller from German television screenwriter Oliver Pötzsch, a descendant of the Kuisls, a famous Bavarian executioner clan.
Magdalena, the clever and headstrong daughter of Bavarian hangman Jakob Kuisl, lives with her father outside the village walls and is destined to be married off to another hangman’s son—except that the town physician’s son is hopelessly in love with her. And her father’s wisdom and empathy are as unusual as his despised profession. It is 1659, the Thirty Years’ War has finally ended, and there hasn’t been a witchcraft mania in decades. But now, a drowning and gruesomely injured boy, tattooed with the mark of a witch, is pulled from a river and the villagers suspect the local midwife, Martha Stechlin.
Jakob Kuisl is charged with extracting a confession from her and torturing her until he gets one. Convinced she is innocent, he, Magdalena, and her would-be suitor to race against the clock to find the true killer. Approaching Walpurgisnacht, when witches are believed to dance in the forest and mate with the devil, another tattooed orphan is found dead and the town becomes frenzied. More than one person has spotted what looks like the devil—a man with a hand made only of bones. The hangman, his daughter, and the doctor’s son face a terrifying and very real enemy.
Taking us back in history to a place where autopsies were blasphemous, coffee was an exotic drink, dried toads were the recommended remedy for the plague, and the devil was as real as anything, The Hangman’s Daughter brings to cinematic life the sights, sounds, and smells of seventeenth-century Bavaria, telling the engrossing story of a compassionate hangman who will live on in readers’ imaginations long after they’ve put down the novel.
Oliver Pötzsch: As a descendant of the executioner’s dynasty Kuisl, I have been fascinated by their history since my childhood. Engaging myself with the Kuisls makes me feel connected to a greater lineage. In addition, executions are a fascinating topic often treated with undue prejudice. In this respect my books are a defense of my ancestors’ honour.
Question: What authors or books have influenced your writing?
Oliver Pötzsch: Regarding historic novels, my writing has been influenced by Paul Harding, Robert Harris, and the fantastic novel Terror by Dan Simmons. But I also look up to many authors of the fantasy genre such as Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, and the almost forgotten Fritz Leiber.
Question: What research did you do while writing your book?
Oliver Pötzsch: My grandmother’s deceased cousin was a passionate genealogist. In his life he built an enormous archive of information about my ancestors and the hangman profession, and I have been allowed free use of this resource. Also, during my career as a journalist I made several radio programs on this topic, talking to herb women and guardians of cultural heritage and searching in many archives of Bavarian cities for my ancestors.
Question: Is there any character you most identify with? Why?
Oliver Pötzsch: I am a cross between Jakob Kuisl and Simon Fronwieser. I am sometimes ferociously melancholic like Kuisl, and I have his stubbornness and his grumbling taciturnity which can drive my wife crazy. But also, like Simon, I am curious, I can be charming and at times even loquacious, and I love great coffee!
Question: Have you considered trying your hand at other genres?
Oliver Pötzsch: In March 2011, my new book, The Ludwig Conspiracy, will be released. It’s about the mysterious background of the death of King Ludwig II, the Bavarian fairy tale king. The novel is set in the present day; it is a contemporary thriller which I took great pleasure in writing. And one day I want to write a fantasy novel. As a child I couldn’t get enough of them.
Question: Have you always wanted to be an author? What other careers have you pursued?
Oliver Pötzsch: As a child I wanted to become a soccer commentator, actor, and yes, as a matter of fact, I wanted to become a writer. I always made up stories and wasted my youth on never-ending fantasy roleplaying.
Question: What's it like to have a book published for the first time?
Oliver Pötzsch: The first book is like the birth of a child, a long-cherished dream come true. Apart from that, every novel is really hard work! But I can’t think of anything else to do.
Question: What's next for you?
Oliver Pötzsch: After the thriller about Ludwig II, I am writing the fourth novel in the Hangman series. Later I will fulfil another childhood dream of mine and go live in Iceland for a while. Without my mobile or laptop. It is something I promised my family. Well, I might take a big notepad for a few new ideas...
(Photo © Dominik Parzinger)