The Play of Death: a Hangman’s Daughter Tale

“In the high mountains above Ammergau, fog lay over the peaks like a huge funeral shroud. Ravens cawed loudly as they circled the rocky, snow-covered cone of Kofel Mountain, which had been standing watch over this region for hundreds of thousands of years” (67).

Historical fiction and mystery were never so well married as in this series “A Hangman’s Daughter Tale,” regardless of title. For those who are not familiar with this author’s work, I suggest starting with the first one, The Hangman’s Daughter, for it is this one to ground the reader in the sociology of “the hangman” with all its “professionalism,” taboos, and desperate needs of the medieval community for this “dishonorable” person.

hangman

Beginning with maps – and who does not love a map to engulf and orient the reader – of the village and Ammer Valley in the 16th century – Pötzsch continues with the lives of his main characters throughout the series set in Bavaria; the hangman, Jakob Kuisek and his daughter’s family are somewhat older, a bit wiser, but remain stubbornly outspoken to their perils. Plots of greed and power, seemingly disparate from the outset, culminate (as you know they will!) with action-packed and heroic brawn that never overshadow the astute minds of those so despised by every medieval community. This tale, in particular is appealing to me on many levels: it is imbued with tales of the folk – the boogeyman, little mountain creatures – and meshed with religious (some might say, mythological) beliefs of Christianity at its most fearful for the “simple” folk who live in this valley; finally, the characters are so likable, with a sense of who they are tinged with humor.

As always, the “Afterward” is crucial to read. Conveying the personal as a descendant of executioners, this story – and I would add, this series – offers the author’s weltanschauung and allows you to participate intimately in his life in a way that few other mystery series proffer to their readers. Of course, it is up to you: you may read it for the pure thrill of a well-written and research mystery or, you may participate in a textual dialog with the author.


Pötzsch, Oliver, and Lee Chadeayne, trans. The Play of death: A Hangman’s daughter tale. Boston: First Mariner Books, 2017.

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