Someone or something is chomping on the good burgers of Bamberg, and it’s up to executioner-turned-detective Jakob Kuisl to figure out the whys and wherefores.
Being a hangman has some bennies, including, in the fraught era of counterreformation and inquisition, plenty of job security. Yet Jakob has been ticked off at the good citizens of Schongau ever since his pop “died in great agony” in a cold winter that saw the 1 percent comfortably bundled in furs and the great masses dying of hunger and frostbite. So what’s a self-respecting Bavarian to do? Head for a cathedral city for beer and solace, of course. In the company of daughter Magdalena and occasionally hapless son-in-law Simon (“If you can read books,” growls Jakob, “why can’t you read people?”), Jakob thus makes for Bamberg, where much is amiss. In this latest installment in the Hangman’s Daughter series, bestselling German writer Pötzsch (The Beggar King, 2013, etc.) is not always well-served by an off-handedness that sometimes comes off like Dick Shawn in The Producers (“Maybe he has the plague….That’s going around now”). Still, the setup is delicious: in a time of maddening superstition and general ineptitude (“These stupid drunks would probably get stuck even in a dry riverbed”), some party unknown is adding to the chaos by sinking blades or perhaps fangs and claws into the necks of the unsuspecting Bambergers, and it’s a grand entertainment to watch Jakob and associates go all CSI on the proceedings and sniff, deduce, and otherwise reason toward a solution that involves plenty of red herrings—or red simians, anyway. Fans of catacombs and secret underground cities will thrill at Jakob’s discoveries, and along the way Pötzsch turns in some quietly thoughtful moments that aren’t gooey with sentiment: “As a hangman’s daughter,” he writes to lovely effect, “Magdalena knew all too well how it felt when people looked away when they saw you and secretly crossed themselves.”
Occasionally ham-fisted, but good fun overall.