”Immobilized with terror, Magdalena felt Brother Jakobus throw his whole weight against her and smelled the fire that had turned his robe into gigantic torch. Desperately, she tried to push away his burning body, but his hands held her in a tight grip down on the ground. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see how long strings of a sticky, viscous substance were dripping down on her. Brother Jakobus must have taken pitch from the buckets in the corridor and rubbed it all over his body. The crackling heat from his tunic almost caused her to faint. The monk was looking directly into her face now. Fire had burned off his hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes, and all that was left were two deranged, glowing white eyes and a black hole that had once been his mouth from which a high-pitched, almost childlike cry emanated.
‘Come back, Magdalena...!’”
Magdalena has a whole host of issues. She has a crazed monk who kidnaps her because she reminds him of the whore named Mary Magdalen who infected him with syphilis.
He wants to save her from becoming a wanton hussy.
Her father, Jakob Kuisl, is the hangman which in 17th century Bavarian culture means that she is considered unclean by all the village people, and therefore unfit for marriage to anyone, but another hangman. Philipp Hartmann, a hangman from the nearby town of Augsberg, has recently lost his wife and is looking for a new wife to raise his daughter. An unwanted marriage proposal is on the table along with glittering piles of guilders. She is in love with the local physician’s son Simon Fronwieser, but of course they can not and must not marry.
The local priest has been murdered most foul. A man of most prodigious eating habits he can not resist a pot of warm donuts smothered in honey. He can’t eat just one or two or three. They have this funny taste om nom nom...so good...om nom nom... aaugh... taaka taaka...THUD
. Enter Benedikta Koppmeyer the sister of the priest and soon to be the bane of Magdalena’s existence. She is fluent in several languages. She runs her own wine business. She is handy with a sword or pistol. She is...well...beautiful. Anybody else hear the crack of vertebrae as Simon swiftly turns his head to have a long look at this creature?
Jealousy spiced with anger sends Magdalena down to a local pub to drown her sorrows in a cup or two of beer. This quickly turns into a GIRL GONE WILD
moment with the local riff raff cheering her on. After all she is young, lovely, and curvy and even though the local boys can’t marry her there isn’t a single one that wouldn’t mind some time in a hayloft with her. What fear they have of her bloodline and more importantly of her oversized father can not compete with the lustful attractions of a brimming bodice.
Meanwhile Simon and Benedikta have formed a working partnership to investigate the murder of her brother and find themselves chasing clues from church to church with the goal of finding a lost Knights Templer treasure. Oh yes, of course, shadowy figures are waiting to pounce if they get too close to finding Templer secrets. There is this great moment when things are dire, when aren’t they in this tale, when Simon finds an attic over a church filled with tumbling piles of dusty books. He can’t help but sit, read, and marvel. He has found his treasure... to heck with the Knights Templer. The more screams, the more money the Hangman makes. Every bone of the convicted criminal must be broken before the final blow can be administered.
Jakob Kuisl is busy chasing down robbers, villains, and performing his duties as executioner. Part of his job as hangman is to make sure that say when he breaks a man on the wheel that he does so in the most entertaining way for the assembled crowds. The people treat an execution like a county fair and such an affair is quite profitable to local merchants quenching the thirsts and needs of the raucous multitudes. It has been known in the past when a hangman does not produce enough screams and pleading from some poor wretch that the crowd takes out their frustrated blood lust on the hangman himself. Not so different today from watching parents at a little league baseball game disagreeing vehemently, sometimes frothily, with an umpire’s call.
As a backdrop to all this running around looking for treasures and robbers and dodging crazy monks scads of people are becoming sick with a cough and dying. So many that the graves of plague victims from a few years ago are needed for new corpses. Simon and Jakob (the hangman typically provided herbs and remedies to make extra cash.) both provide what aid they can, but as happens with science and medicine sometimes a mix-up provides the solution. Oliver Potzsch contemplating taking up the family business.
What adds a bit of juice to these books is the fact that Oliver Potzsch is descended from a hangman named Jakob Kuisl. In fact he has traced his lineage to fourteen different hangmen in his family. He is bona fide.
Books play a big part in the lives of the characters. They are treated with reverence and certainly that adds a compelling reason for me to enjoy this series. I like the characters. The plots are fine. They certainly work well to move these characters around and let us experience life in 17th century Bavaria. I could certainly see myself reading these on a train, a plane, a boat, an alien spacecraft, on a beach, a sun kissed verandah or curled in my reading chair, and be perfectly entertained. Next up in the series is The Beggar King. Not to be missed! My scintillating (I'm biased) review of the first book in the series Hangman's Daughter.