The Dark Monk by Oliver Pötzsch
(Book 2 in The Hangman’s Daughter Tales)
Translated by Lee Chadeayne
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.
- 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.