Top critical review
Number Three's Not A Charm
Reviewed in the United States on July 1, 2015
Well, all good things have to come to... a tapering off, if not an end.
Oliver Potzsch's 2013 book, "The Beggar King," is the third in his mystery series starting with the "The Hangman's Daughter" (2008) and followed by "The Dark Monk" (2009). The first two have been both interesting and entertaining romps around Bavaria during the mid-17th century (see my Amazon reviews: "Twisty Tale of Bavarian Dark Deeds" on 3/14/2014 and "Tempting Templar Treasure" on 12/22/2014).
“The Beggar King” shows signs of the characters and storyline getting a little tired.
Once again, Jacob Kuisl, the hangman of Schongau in Bavaria, his fetching daughter, Magdalena, and her earnest lover and would-be doctor, Simon Fronweiser, are caught up in mysterious events. This time the dark deeds are in neighboring Regensburg, the free town and assembly place for the soon-to-be Reichstag of the German Empire rulers.
In quick order the Schongau hangman is imprisoned for being implicated in a killing of his own sister and her husband, bathhouse operators and would-be alchemists. The Regensburg Inner Council takes a dim view of this type of family affairs and does to the hangman what he has done to others. But there seems to be room for suspecting ulterior motives for at least one of the judges.
Meanwhile, Magdalena and Simon rush into the situation trying to save Jacob but get sidetracked into some bewildering distractions: upscale balls with Magdalena doing an Eliza Doolittle; Simon sharing a round with the bishop's brew master; much pondering about a mysterious blue-white powder with strange properties; traipsing around with Nathan The Wise, head of the Regensburg beggars.
While some of the details are historically accurate - the unrealized impact of moldy bread on the senses and return of the plague (Daniel Defoe wrote about the plague outbreak in London about this time) - many of the other details about medical practices, living conditions and diet, lack of cleanliness have been covered again and again in the first two books so the novelty is wearing thin.
Additionally, the antics of the three principles seem over the top and, at times, silly. The arguments between Magdalena and Simon are distracting and seem out-of-focus given the enormity of the situation they are facing. Jacob, who is "not dead yet" from the detailed torture administered to him, somehow revives in time to save situations like a silent film hero.
And, of course, much of the action takes place underground in claustrophobic murky conditions - a device Potzsch has used frequently in his prior two books of this series. You have the feeling of living in a not-so-delightful Hieronymus Bosch painting.
All said, the first two Hangman's Daughter Tales were great but the third one is starting to grate.