Featured bedtime read: The Beggar King

By Oliver Pötzsch, 2013

4.5 out of 5

The year is 1662. Alpine village hangman Jakob Kuisl 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 faces first-hand the torture he's administered himself for years.

Jakob's daughter, Magdalena, and a young medicus named Simon hasten to his aid. With the help of an underground network of beggars, a beer-brewing monk, and an Italian playboy, they discover that behind the false accusation is a plan that will endanger the entire German Empire.

Chock-full of historical detail, The Beggar King brings to vibrant life another tale of an unlikely hangman and his tough-as-nails daughter, confirming Pötzsch's mettle as a writer to watch.

Prologue
Somewhere in the midst of the Thirty Years' War, November 1637 AD

THE RIDERS OF the apocalypse wore blood-red leggings, tattered uniforms, and coats that fluttered in the wind like flags behind them. Their weapons were rusty and battered from killing, and their horses nothing but mangy old nags with dull, mud-encrusted coats. Silent, hidden behind a dense line of trees, the men stared at the sleepy village to which they would shortly bring death and destruction.

There were twelve of them, a haggard, hungry dozen.


Magdalena, the heroine in Oliver Pötzsch's The Beggar King — A Hangman's Daughter Tale, is a brazen lass, a gutsy kind of girl, especially in the face of adversity — which is fortunate because 17th century Regensburg is going to throw all it can and then some at this pretty little maid, and her small-learned lover Simon.

When they're chased from their sleepy Bavarian village, following hot on the heels of Magdalena's hangman father Kuisl, all three are led to the great imperial city and none of them are aware of what lies ahead. Cue prostitutions, beggar kings and bath house horrors…

The book opens with a grisly scene from some twenty-five years earlier, during the Great War. But it's a mere taster of what's to follow. Kuisl, the provincial hangman, believes he is travelling to Regensburg to visit his sickly sister. He should be so lucky! Soon this able-bodied executioner is experiencing a dose of his own medicine. 'Nearby he heard a sound that he knew only too well — a long, drawn out hiss and sizzle, like the sound of fat being dropped into a hot pan. Then the infernal odour of sulphur wafted into the chamber. Kuisl clenched his jaw. No matter what happened, they wouldn't hear his scream.'

Can Magdalena and Simon survive to solve the mind-muddling mysteries and rescue this big Bavarian daddy? There are alchemists' secrets, a diplomatic dandy (Italian of course), and a shady bald stalker… Where is it all leading? And, when push comes to shove, just how much torture can a hangman handle? Another turn of the wheel, another bone cracked, can I keep reading? Yes, but sometimes only through my fingers. Come on Tessa! If that gentle giant the hangman can hack it, surely you can too?

This book is ambitious. It's long and sometimes even verges on the farcical, but it is never dull. Think: James Bond meets the 17th century, German style and you're almost there.

Listen to Tessa's review


More reviews

  • The Beggar King weaves a fascinating web of intrigue that invokes much more than just the intricate politics of 17th-century Germany. Oliver Pötzsch has brought to life the heady smells and tastes, the true reality of an era we've never seen quite like this before. The hangman Jakob and his feisty daughter Magdalena are characters we will want to root for in many books to come.- Katherine Neville (author, The Magic Circle)
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More about the author

Oliver Pötzsch

Oliver Pötzsch, born in 1970, has worked for years as a scriptwriter for Bavarian television. He himself is a descendant of one of Bavaria's leading dynasties of executioners. He lives in Munich with his family.

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