Oliver Potzsch is by far one of the finest storytellers of our time. The Dark Monk is a fantastic follow up to The Hangman's Daughter. Again, he brings the world of Jakob Kuisl, the hangman of Schongau, vividly to life.
His characters are well crafted, the story is a maze of mystery and intrigue with a dash of romance. I adore Magdalena, Jakob's daughter. She is a passionate, intelligent woman who I admire for her strength of character. Her lover Simon, the town doctor, is certainly a more interesting character because of her presence in his life. If not for her, he'd be just another small town doctor who cares far too much for his appearance. She gives him depth, and he gives her an ounce of respectability, which is virtually impossible for a woman in her social position in that time period. Being the daughter of the hangman was certainly a fact that made people fear her, and gave her little options in life. Her relationship with Simon really mixes things up a bit in this story, especially when the beautiful Benedikta Koppmeyer arrives in town.
This story centers on the murder of a priest, and the confounding clues he leaves behind. We are swept into the world of the Knights Templar, their secrets and mysteries that have made them so fascinating throughout history, are laid bare here, and are center stage in this well crafted tale.
I look forward to further installments in the Hangman's Daughter series. Thank you Mr. Potzsch, for creating these fascinating characters!
This is truly a 5-star success!
Oliver Pötzsch used the motif of the mystery novel and applies it to "The Dark Monk: A Hangman's Daughter Tale," set in 1660. It's winter with a capital "W" in the Bavarian Alps. The story takes us and his characters from village to village with excursions through the countryside and to a series of monasteries.
The plot is set in motion when a poisoned priest uses his dying wits and strength to leave a clue that proves a gateway into a bigger mystery, drawing in the stalwart trio of hangman, executioner, and healer Jakob Kuisl; his somewhat stubborn but attractive daughter Magdalena; and the town physician's son who is a bit of a dandy but smart as a whip, Simon. But while this mystery is the story's center, other events are also crucial, chiefly, a group robbers are preying on travelers, particularly merchants and their cargos, and a deadly illness is killing many of the villagers.
Along with the murdered priest's sister, this group follows a trail of various clues and riddles, each leading to more answers and more questions. Tracking this core group is a trio of murderous monks (not sure which one is actually the dark monk of the title), various church leaders, and another trio of soldiers-for-hire. As you might imagine, murder, mayhem, kidnapping, and so forth ensue.
The story seems as though the scenes were staged for a play or graphic novel with characters tripping over each other in unexpectedly places. I thought that the plot and resolution hinged on a series of increasingly unlikely coincidences playing out and bringing the characters back together in, for me, an ultimately unsatisfactory resolution. In other words, my "willing suspension of disbelief" could only go so far before I felt like the author was winking at me instead of making the story really resolve itself.
I thought "The Dark Monk: A Hangman's Daughter Tale" was a fun but not convincing tale. The characters seemed a bit cartoonish to me, the settings a bit too sketchy, and the plot a bit too twisted.
When I read some of the reviews of the first book in this series (The Hangman's Daughter) I was both intrigued and worried. It sounded like an interesting period to set a mystery-type series, but some of the reviewers seemed to think the book was both anachronistic and ahistorical in certain ways. That may have been true of the first book (I can't say, as I haven't yet read it) but it certainly isn't true of this one.
I found The Dark Monk to be fast-paced and interesting without sacrificing the feel of the era in which the story is set. The pace of actual events may take place at 17th century speed, but the interactions and descriptions of the various character's mental workings was very well-written and entertaining. The book has several interesting characters and you get to hear the story from their point of view in different chapters. The main characters are Jakob (the hangman), Magdalena (his daughter) and Simon (what passes for a doctor in the 17th century).
Jakob is the kind of iconoclastic detective I'm a real sucker for. He is going to do things his own way and ultimately will rely chiefly on his own counsel, even though he allows Simon and Magdalena brief glimpses into what is going on in his head.
Simon is the kind of character who you alternately like, pity, despise, and then like again. He can be vain and flawed, but he also realizes his short comings and exhibits humanity during a period of time when people had to scratch and claw 24/7 just to keep going.
Magdalena alternates between fierce pride that she is the hangman's daughter and dangerous despair that her position in her village will prevent her from having what she wants in life-- namely, Simon.
The murder is grisly enough and the intrigue is fun and involves Templar Knights-- what could be better than Templars and treasure?!
I laughed out loud several times and really enjoyed the voice the author employs when writing as Jakob. The humor is dry and sophisticated while still maintaining an earthy tone.
Is it likely that these type of folks would have books (exceedingly rare for even those in the highest of social circles) and have the leisure and ability to actually read them? The writing is so good that I can stretch disbelief far enough to believe it. I also believe the humor and slang in the book are representative of the time. "The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel," was written over 100 years earlier than the time this book is supposed to be set and it contains similar bawdy and sly humor.
I loved this book and I will be buying the first book in this series. If you enjoy the murder mystery genre and have books by authors like Cruz-Smith, Nesbo, and Chandler on your shelf I think you will like this one, too.
on June 14, 2012
I quite enjoyed "The Hangman's Daughter" last year, and as such, I thought I'd give "The Dark Monk" a shot. I was very disappointed though - in pacing, plot, and characterization, this simply does not live up to its predecessor.
Positive: Like "The Hangman's Daughter," "The Dark Monk" is meticulously researched, and the historical periodization makes it an intriguing read about a rather dark and unknown time and place (17th century Bavaria).
1. Poetzsch overstresses the oddities of this period - one has to read not once, not twice, but literally 5 times about the ostracizing of hangmen and their families and how the society depended on them but wouldn't openly acknowledge them.
2. Language: This is probably both a translation issue (the novel is originally written in German, and I wish there were a Kindle edition of the German) and a bad writing issue. Too many exclamation marks (makes the writer sound like an overexcited teenager), repetition of phrases, proliferation of cliches, the use of the word "dastardly" (what? no-one seriously talks about a "dastardly crime"!). All of which can be summed up by quoting the following sentence: "That would probably mean certain death for her" (page 240). This is the point at which I gave up on the writer/translator (if this is all due to a bad translation, this probably means certain unemployment for someone).
3. Plot: There is no urgency about solving the mystery (clues supposedly leading to a treasure hidden by the Knights Templar), so one doesn't really get carried away. The solution is reached through a staggering number of coincidences (people leaning against the right statue, falling from a tree and just happening to land on the right branch, etc.), whilst the identity of the Dastardly Master-criminal is pretty obviously revealed about 1/4 of the way in, and thus is neither really a surprise nor does anyone care since he has such a small role in the novel. The only interesting twist is in the sub-plot, "The Mystery of the High-Way Robbers" (and yes, the phrase "high-way robbery" is frequently invoked), which the hangman himself pursues.
4. Characterization: Having 4 protagonists/detectives really strains the ability of the reader to care about any of them - I had no sympathy for the romance between the hangman's daughter and Simon (and, in fact, was rooting for them to break up since they're both total idiots), the hangman's daughter (supposedly the main protagonist) spends most of the novel in a hysterical jealous huff, and her love interest, Simon, is a short, rather silly, and incredibly obtuse (based on how long it takes him to solve these mysteries) dandy who cares more about his clothes than, well, pretty much anything else. The hangman is cool, I liked him - the only sensible character in the novel.
This definitely does not live up to "The Hangman's Daughter," which I remember as being an engaging page-turner with believable, reasonably deep characters and an interesting historical setting. All that is left of that in the sequel is the historical setting.
on July 13, 2012
I greatly enjoyed the first volume in the series, and eagerly picked up this installment when it was published. It faithfully carries forward the basic elements that made the first so interesting - the characters of the hangman as detective, his feisty daughter, and the town physician, who together get themselves into, and out of, a variety of sticky situations. Historical details are nicely drawn, and the reader feels himself immersed in the era.
While the characters in particular remain attractive, the plot this time feels derivative, reminiscent of too many Knights Templar/Dan Brown books and National Treasure movies, with clues and riddles hidden - for no apparent reason - in musty manuscripts, ancient crypts, plaques, etc. The side characters and villains are caricatures, and there is never any doubt as to the ultimate outcome.
It's a breezy read- like watching a 1930's adventure movie or one of the latter-day Indiana Jones movies, perhaps - a way to while away the time, but not fulfilling.
on June 18, 2012
In the middle of the winter in a small village in the Bavarian Alps, a parish priest unearths an amazing discovery during renovation of his church. Realizing the significance of the long-buried secret, the dutiful priest sends a dispatch informing his superiors of his finding. When his letter falls into the wrong hands, a gang of dark strangers with evil intent descends upon the village.
On a dark winter night, Father Koppmeyer is poisoned and dies. Schongau's diminutive medic, Simon Fronwieser, is called to investigate. It doesn't take long for him to determine that the cleric has been murdered. To track down the killer, Simon solicits help from the much-feared but surprisingly compassionate hangman, Jakob Kuisl, and Kuisl's attractive, but fiercely independent daughter, Magdalena. Their hunt intensifies when the late priest's sister, Benedikta, arrives on the scene and demands to find out what who is responsible for her brother's death.
In the course of their investigation, the team discovers clues and riddles that lead them to dark days in the Catholic Church's history --- to the times of the Crusades --- and a treasure hidden by the outlawed Knights Templar. To throw the hangman off his pursuit and thwart his progress in tracking down the real murderer, a city official assigns him to round up roving gangs of desperate and starving robbers hiding in the woods. Meanwhile, lurking in the shadows, a secretive and treacherous group of zealots follows Simon and Benedikta with the intent of preventing them from taking possession of the treasure.
THE DARK MONK, the follow-up to Oliver Pötzsch's THE HANGMAN'S DAUGHTER, has all the elements of a compelling story --- a fascinating setting, rich historical events, dark secrets and intrigue. (An interesting fact: Kuisl is based on an ancestor of Pötzsch.) While the time period and historical details undoubtedly have been carefully researched, some awkward translations, along with a huge cast of characters, slow down the action. For example, a 17th-century European woman referring to herself in dialogue as a "businessperson" detracts from the story's authenticity. Moreover, it is difficult to keep track of the characters, when even the lesser ones are given full names and some names are similar or the same: Magda, Magdalena, Martha, Maria, two Michaels, two Jakobs.
Despite these distractions, THE DARK MONK certainly will appeal to lovers of historical fiction peppered with mystery and suspense, as well as readers interested in a dark period of European history.
Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt
on July 14, 2012
I did not enjoy this book. I felt it was poorly researched. There were many modern words of expression that would not be used at the time period this book depicted. It also felt like it was trying to write for a movie contract.......books and movies should be totally different. I realize more and more this is being done but I don't like it and will watch that I don't purchase those books.
on November 18, 2013
In the second of the Hangman's daughters series, Potzsh takes us on an entertaining journey for the lost treasue of an old religious organization. This is a trope that has been seen often before, think National Treasue, DaVinci Code, etc. The book stands by iteself, however, and through the position of its female protagonist provides some opportunity to to think about society, the place of women and knowledge. It is better than pure escapist fiction, I enjoyed it, and I'd recommend it, but in the end is just a half step above most escapist fiction. Buy it. Read it. Enjoy it. Just don't expect to be challenged by it.
on June 17, 2012
The Dark Monk was every bit as good as the Hangman's daughter.
This one hits the ground running right out of the gate when a local priest is found murdered. Simon is summoned to the scene in order to help the portly old man but by the time he gets there too late but the priest left a clue. Simon thinks there's a bigger mystery than the murder of the priest and ends up enlisting the help of Jakob the hangman. What follows is a whirlwind mystery rich in ancient societies, historical detail, misplaced intentions, murders, subplots, well drafted characters and great dialogue.
Magdalena takes a more prominent role in this second effort. While the first one was called The Hangman's Daughter it was mostly about her father, Jakob Kusil. While he's still featured prominently, many of the subplots and the main plot feature Jakob's daughter much more than the first book. Still, it seems that Simon is more the feature of this book than the Kusils but they're all intimately tied together.
One of the aspects I liked about this one especially were some of the insights we get into Jakob's past from when he was a mercenary, before he became the town hangman. With tantalizing little flashbacks, the author reveals a little bit more about what makes Jakob Kusil tick. In addition, both Magdalena and Simon are shown to be coming into their own. Magdalena remains a strong woman who's shunned in a man's world simply for who fathered her and Simon is ever at odds with his old fashioned and stubborn doctor father. The three get into tight spots both singularly and as a collective and they use their brains and natural talents to address the problems. This leads to some great character moments and some very well written action sequences.
Potzsch plants bread crumbs throughout and is very deft at revealing clues without calling showing his hand until he wants to. The plot and all the interwoven subplots are razor sharp and paced very well. There are no slow spots in this novel and each scene is all part of the bigger tale. Just about every character in this book, even the minor players, are integral to the overall picture.
It's difficult to summarize the plot any more without giving too much away so I won't ;) Just know that if you liked the first one you should like this one equally as much and for anybody that may happen upon this review who hasn't read either one yet, I can't recommend the series highly enough. A great historical mystery with characters that are anything BUT cookie cutter and are interesting and fun to read every time they show up on a page.
Great stuff. Also comes with a preview of his next novel, The Beggar King which is just enough to whet the appetite for the next in the series!
on December 22, 2014
Move over Indiana Jones! You've got rivals from 17th century Germany - of all places!
Second in the "Hangman's Daughter" quartet of caper-mysteries by Oscar Potzsch, "The Dark Monk" returns us to Schongau in Bavaria during a particularly snowy, cold January 1660. The situation is slightly improved from the conditions of thievery and dark doings two years earlier.
Jacob Kuisl, the deceptively smart hangman of Schongau, his fetching daughter Magdalena and the clever young would-be doctor, Simon Fronweiser, are plying their trades while engaged in a colorful discovery of pharmacology.
Sprinkled throughout is an entertaining and fun depiction of medical knowledge for that period: various herbs and plants, including the unwitting use of aspirin in the form of willow bark to relieve a mysterious illness killing many of the local citizens.
But... hold on. There's a lot more going on when a local priest dies under suspicious circumstances literally pointing to an enigmatic hint on a coffin in a crypt. Oh, yeah!
Before long a lot of people, Including the Kuisls, Simon, a mysterious merchant woman with seductive appeal to Simon (much to Magdalena's ire and jealousy), are chasing after the lost fabulous treasure of the Knights Templar.
Complicating matters are bands of robbers, primarily displaced soldiers from the 30 Years War (1618 - 1648) that put an end to the Holy Roman Empire, are still lurking about and interrupting trade and travelers between towns along the snowy paths.
But is it just these thieves? Before long, it appears that bishops, abbots and monks from various Jesuit and Franciscan orders are in hot pursuit. Ah, nothing like relics to warm the blood on a frosty night!
Very entertaining are Brother Jakobus who knows how to show a girl a good time and Abbot Augustin Bonenmayr with a real edifice complex and a born promoter who's not afraid to set the world on fire. I'm not sure Spielberg could have outdone some of the antics and settings.
Compared to the first book of the series (see my Amazon review for "The Hangman's Daughter" dated March 10, 2014 - "Twisty Tale of Bavarian Dark Deeds"), this one is more tightly written while preserving consistency with the setting, characters and conditions. Potzsch and co-author, Lee Chadeayne, seem more comfortable with the story and do a good job of shifting the narrative among the characters to keep up a fast and engaging pace.
So, settle into a comfy armchair, pull up a blanket and take a journey back about 350 years when life was simpler...or was it?