Hangman's haunted past

A review of The Beggar King by Oliver Potzsch

My favorite 17th Century sleuths are back for another hair-raising, exciting, and almost deadly adventure. It is 1662 and Jakob Kuisl, the Schongau hangman, his oldest daughter Magdalena, and Simon Fronwieser, the medicus and son of the town doctor are in for quite an adventure in Oliver Plotzsch's new novel, The Beggar King. This time the story moves from Schongau to Regensburg. What they say is true: the past can come back and bite you in the derriere.

Jakob was a hangman's son who tried to escape the hangman's life by signing up to be a mercenary in the Thirty Years War. He was a very good soldier. He rose in the ranks. However he discovered the horrors of war and was glad to get out. But now 25 years later a past event has set into motion a plan that has terrible consequences for Jakob.

In August 1662, Jakob Kuisl receives a message that his younger sister, Lisbeth, is ill. She and her husband, a bathhouse owner, live in Regensburg, a four day journey down the Danube. After arriving he lets his temper get the best of him and ends up in the tower for the night. Meanwhile, back in Schongau Jakob isn't the only Kuisl who's being set up. His oldest daughter Magdalena, apprentice to the midwife, is called to the baker to help with the baker's maid. Both she and Simon go. They discover that the maid was trying to abort the baker's child. However the baker gave her too much ergot and they cannot save her. Magdalena's temper gets the best of her when she accuses the baker of raping his maid and threatens to tell everyone. But the baker reminds her that he is on the city council and that no one will believe a hangman's daughter and a "horny son of an army doctor" over him. This sets up a situation where Simon and Magdalena leave Schongau to find a place where a hangman's daughter and a medicus could be together. They decide to head to the free city of Regensburg where her aunt and uncle live.

As Simon and Magdalena decide to head to Regensburg, Jakob is let out after a night in the tower. He pays a beggar to lead him to his sister's. When he gets there he finds both with their throats slit. Of course the city guards just happen to be in the neighborhood. They come in shortly after him and arrest him for the murders. Now he's stuck in jail for a crime he didn't commit and he knows what's coming next--torture by the city's hangman in order to get him to confess. Jakob now has a lot of time to think to try to figure out who set him up. His only hope although he doesn't know it yet are Magdalena and Simon.

Now we have Jakob in jail trying to wrack his brain to figure out who wants him dead while trying to survive the various measures of torture. On the outside we have Simon and Magdalena trying to find proof of her dad's innocence. Along the way they meet an interesting cast of characters who may or may not be able to help them. Who should they trust? Will Jakob be able to survive the torture? Will he convince his fellow hangman that he is innocent and gain his help? Will Magdalena and Simon be able to save her father in time? For the answers to these questions, you'll have to read the book.

I really like these characters and the way Potzsch brings their 17th Century Germany to life. It is an engaging, suspenseful story about love, revenge, and what humans are capable of--both good and evil. He even provides a brief travel guide at the end if one is interested in visiting that area of Germany. I eagerly look forward to the next book, The Warlock: A Hangman's Daughter's Tale (or as Amazon lists it as The Poisoned Pilgrim: A Hangman's Daughter's Tale) coming in July, 2013. No matter what the title is I'm going to read it.

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