The first books I got addicted to were murder mysteries. I began with the Boxcar children series, Encyclopedia Brown, and the Hardy Boys and made my way to Agatha Christie by fifth grade. Every once in a while, I try to grab one at the library. The cover of the most recent Potzsch book about the Hangman of Schongau looked interesting, so I decided to find the first volume in the series.
The story begins with a young man being found dead in a river with a mark on his shoulder that resembled the symbol of a witch. The town had witch trials years ago, and the hangman’s grandfather was the hangman at the time. The midwife in town was the main suspect as she was seen with witch items and with several orphans, including the boy who died.
Pötzsch paints a wonderful image of life in the dark ages, and by wonderful, I mean dire and desperate and insane. But the characters are very well formed, especially the main three: the hangman, his daughter, and the local doctor’s son. The story was alright though. It had a flow and became easy to read. Most of the twists did not turn too much. In the end, this was more about the characters and the time period than the murder of the young child.
Torture plays a large part in the entire book. The hangman has the duty to get a confession out of the midwife that he believes to be innocent. Through his training and experiences torturing people, he gives the midwife tactics and in some cases, drugs, to make the torture more bearable. Obviously, this theme has ramifications today – but the whole of this story puts town over truth, morality, and justice. All of the major characters seem to be okay with the torture. All of the major characters appear to know why the ending is justified.
A few more books follow these characters and I may pick them up. There is a lot to like about this book. And honestly, a lot more to think about at the end than most thrillers.