The Comfort of the Familiar

The Hangman's Daughter

This book is, in many ways, a by-the-numbers murder mystery.  The killing begins early in the book and most of the characters in the book are determined to believe one particular person has committed them.  However, in the end, a tenacious group of misfits put their heads together to find the real culprit. They risk their lives in the process but eventually everyone gets their comeuppance (uh..spoiler?).  What draws me back to these stories is not necessarily a new story but the innovative ways they find of figuring out “whodunnit.”  I am a particular fan of historical mysteries since I currently have a BA in history doing nothing but collecting dust. My favorites give you little glimpses into every day life during a particular place and time.   The Hangman’s Daughter does this really well.

The story takes place in German, 1660 in the village of Shongau.  The three main characters are Jacob Kuisl, the titular hangman and Magdalena, his equally titular daughter. Both are seen as somewhat untouchable by the townsfolk due to her father’s profession. They are joined by Simon Fronwieser, the son of the town’s doctor who has recently returned from the University of Ingollstadt and has no patience for local superstitions or his fathers old methods of medical treatment which he disregards as “bloodletting and piss smelling.”  The action begins immediately when a local boy, Peter Grimmer is found brutally murdered by the townsfolk. A strange symbol on the boy’s shoulder and the boy’s association with a local midwife, Martha Stechlin,  cause the hysterical locals to accuse said midwife of witchcraft and storm her home.  The Hangman is in unenviable positon of being certain the the midwife is innocent, but obliged to torture her anyway due to his position in the town.  Our three heroes do their very best to delay Martha’s seemingly inevitable confession under torture while investigating the crime.  We get a local at local town politics, prejudices and the emergence of new sciences over old superstions while they follow the clues to the real killer.

It took me a couple of chapters to really get into this book, but I find this is often the case when starting a new mystery series.  The “getting to know you” process is a little tedious.  But once the mystery really got rolling I was pretty hooked.  Like any good mystery series, you are legitimately scared for the characters even though you know they’ll turn out all right in the end.