1662: Jakob Kuisl, the hangman of a village in the Alps, receives a letter from his sister calling him to the imperial city of Regensburg, where a gruesome sight awaits him: her throat has been slit. Arrested and framed for the murder, Kuisl will face firsthand the torture he's administered himself for years unless he can prevail on a fellow executioner for mercy.
When his steely daughter, Magdelena, and a young doctor, Simon, follow him to Regensburg, they enlist an underground network of beggars, a beer-brewing monk, and an Italian playboy - navigating the labyrinthine city to learn there is much more behind the false accusation than a personal vendetta: there is a plan that will endanger the entire German Empire.
Oliver Potzsch's The Beggar King takes us to Germany in 1662, a period that I wasn't very familiar with. The 1600s are a time of upheaval in the German Empire and in Europe. With the Thirty Years Wars, mercenaries had overrun many of the villages and we encounter the effects of this war throughout the novel. It becomes clear early on that the class system is deeply entrenched and that the Kuisls, as a family of hangmen, are very low on the social ladder. This means that it is nearly impossible for the hangman's daughter Magdelena to marry the young doctor Simon, her sweetheart, in their hometown. It also means that our hero, Jakob Kuisl, is careful not to disclose his identity when he travels to Regensburg to visit his ailing sister.
Magdalena and Simon leave their town with the hope of starting anew in Regensburg. When they discover that Jakob has been arrested and is accused of murder, the young couple decide to look for who might have been behind the killings in order to free Jakob. Their sleuthing is limited to their social network in the imperial city. As Magdalena and Simon travel with the beggars, the boat masters, and a Venetian ambassador, the novel takes us to unpredictable plot twists and unusual places. Oliver Potzsch delivers an engrossing mystery set in a unique setting. I found the historical and cultural details particularly fascinating - they added another level of complexity to The Beggar King.
ISBN-10: 054799219X - Paperback $18.00
Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (January 8, 2013), 512 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Prime Reviewers program.
About the Author:
Oliver Potzsch, born in 1970, was for years a radio personality for Bavarian radio and a screenwriter for Bavarian public television. He is himself a descendant of the Kuisls, a well-known line of Bavarian executioners that inspired the novel.