Review: The Dark Monk

TheDarkMonkPtzschOlive16249_f

The Dark Monk by Oliver Pötzsch
(Book 2 in The Hangman’s Daughter Tales)
Translated by Lee Chadeayne
Historical Fiction/Mystery/Thriller
ISBN: 978-0547807683
Published by Mariner Books
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing)

FTC Disclosure: Gift from family member

Winter has settled thick over a sleepy village in the Bavarian Alps, ensuring every farmer and servant is indoors the night a parish priest discovers he’s been poisoned. As numbness creeps up his body, he summons the last of his strength to scratch a cryptic sign in the frost.

Following a trail of riddles, hangman Jakob Kuisl; his headstrong daughter Magdalena; and the town physician’s son team up with the priest’s aristocratic sister to investigate. What they uncover will lead them back to the Crusades, unlocking a troubled history of internal church politics and sending them on a chase for a treasure of the Knights Templar.

But they’re not the only ones after the legendary fortune. A team of dangerous and mysterious monks is always close behind, tracking their every move, speaking Latin in the shadows, giving off a strange, intoxicating scent. And to throw the hangman off their trail, they have ensured he is tasked with capturing a band of thieves roving the countryside attacking solitary travelers and spreading panic.

 

It hasn’t been more than a few days since I finished book two and I’m going through withdrawals. I’m so glad that book three is out and four is on the way.

If you haven’t read any of The Hangman’s Daughter series, I advise making sure you have access to all  the books before starting. Because if you’re anything like me, once you get into a good story and set of characters, it’s hard to wait until you can get a hold of the rest of the books.

As much as the first book was primarily a mystery, this one definitely has more of a thriller aspect which made it difficult to set aside for any length of time. It is well over 400 pages, but it never felt like it.

Also, don’t let the mention of the Knights Templar scare you off. It seems they have been done to death by Dan Brown and others, but they are merely part of the tale, not all of it. It is about religion itself, and the divides it causes – as well as how it can connect and comfort people during a dark time.

Every book finds its own theme. Unintentionally, my second novel became a book about religion – all the madness, the insanity it can cause, but also the consolation and refuge it offered at a time when people could easily have doubted God. – Oliver Pötzsch on the writing of The Dark Monk

 

Unlike the first book, I guessed correctly about some of the mysteries. But as I said, this reads more like a thriller. The action is fast-paced and always remains pertinent. There are sub-plots to be sure, but all are directly related to the main plot, never going off-track or becoming distracting. As a good series should, it continues to develop the characters and their stories so that you get to know them better, like or hate them, and look forward to reading more about them in the books to come.

All in all a positive experience leading me to state without hesitation that this writer, and his books, are getting a permanent place in my library. I’m sure I will be re-reading them. Loaning them out? Probably. If I can find a chain long enough to make sure they don’t go far or get lost.

JC

  • Oliver Pötzsch was for years a radio personality for Bavarian radio and a screenwriter for Bavarian public television. He himself is a descendant of the Kuisls, the well-known line of Bavarian executioners that inspired this novel.
  • Lee Chadeayne is a former classical musician and college professor. He was one of the charter members of the American Literary Translators Association and is editor-in-chief of ALTA Newsletter.

Review: The Hangman’s Daughter

Hangmans DaughterThe Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch
(Book 1 in The Hangman’s Daughter Tales)
Translated by Lee Chadeayne
Historical Fiction/Mystery
ISBN: 978-0547745015
Published by Mariner Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing)

FTC Disclosure: Gift from family member

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.

 

It’s a fact. I love historical fiction. Especially ones so well written that you forget you are reading a story set in the past.

Not that the setting is insignificant. With this book, a lot of the conflict and the build up to the climax is dependent upon the times when “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”. (excerpt from book jacket)

People of that time still believed in witchcraft and superstitions. For me, this spices up the plot and makes the characters more intriguing – especially the ones who are more enlightened and butt up against those that aren’t.

Of those who are enlightened are the hangman Jakob Kuisl, his daughter, and the town physician’s son – who is a physician in his own right, but not recognized because of his youth and “modern” thinking. These are the story’s unlikely heroes fighting against the clock to save an innocent women from torture and execution.

At the core of the book is a murder mystery and a good one at that. I thought I knew who was behind it all, but guessed wrong, and that is as much as a spoiler as you’re going to get.

For those of you who are worried about this book because of the children who are the victims, I can tell you that it isn’t as horrendous as you may think. Just remember it is fiction and set in a time where life was hard for all, including children. But if you are the least bit squeamish, then bear this aspect of the plot in mind.

I would recommend this book to anyone, especially fans of historical fiction and mysteries.

The next two books in this series are The Dark Monk and The Beggar King. I suggest having them on a wish list or standby because I’m pretty sure once you’ve read this book, you’ll want to start right away on the next one.

JC

 

 

  • Oliver Pötzsch was for years a radio personality for Bavarian radio and a screenwriter for Bavarian public television. He himself is a descendant of the Kuisls, the well-known line of Bavarian executioners that inspired this novel.
  • Lee Chadeayne is a former classical musician and college professor. He was one of the charter members of the American Literary Translators Association and is editor-in-chief of ALTA Newsletter.

Review: The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

001The Midwife by Jennifer Worth
Non-Fiction, Memoir 340 pages
ISBN: 9780143116233
Published by Penguin Books

FTC Disclosure: Gift from family member

An unforgettable story of the joy of motherhood, the bravery of a community, and the hope of one extraordinary woman

At the age of twenty-two, Jennifer Worth leaves her comfortable home to move into a convent and become a midwife in post war London’s East End slums. The colorful characters she meets while delivering babies all over London-from the plucky, warm-hearted nuns with whom she lives to the woman with twenty-four children who can’t speak English to the prostitutes and dockers of the city’s seedier side-illuminate a fascinating time in history. Beautifully written and utterly moving, The Midwife will touch the hearts of anyone who is, and everyone who has, a mother.

 

If you’ve seen a British TV show titled “Call The Midwife”, then you are already familiar with the story of Jennifer Worth. Although the book and series are similar, reading the printed version is always enlightening and this memoir is an eye-opener in many ways.

Set in a time and place that seems worlds away for some of us, the basic themes of what Jennifer writes about are ones that anyone with an ounce of empathy or sympathy can understand and feel. She writes in a way that there are very few instances where you realize you’re reading a memoir. I’m not a big fan of non-fiction, but when I read a book like this, I’m reminded that I should keep my options open.

I like the series and I like this memoir even more.

For those who don’t read non-fiction all that much and to those who especially like biographies, I highly recommend The Midwife by Jennifer Worth.

JCa_thumb.jpg