Top critical review
The hill is alive...but not with the sounds of music.
Reviewed in the United States on January 31, 2018
The Play of Death is the latest of the Hangman's Daughter series of medieval mysteries. This one is set in the Bavarian town of Oberammagau, famous for its Passion play.In the late 17th century, the time setting of the novel,the play was new.it was also extremely important to the struggling economy of the remote village.
The book begins with a man 's body being discovered hanging on a cross in the cemetery behind the play's stage.The corpse is that of the man scheduled to play the role of Jesus. Soon another is murdered. It seems as if the play is cursed.
The magistrate goes to investigate and with him goes the town hangman, a burly, forbidden giant of a man, Jakob Kuisl. He has a way of ferreting out evil doers, just the sight of his fearsome tools of torture can caus strong men to shiver. Thos case has conficts beyond anything he had ever before encountered. There are other strange events around the village. Children have disappeared. The forbidding mountain peak thAt overlooks Oberammagau has been making frightening noises. Black-robed, hooded horsemen ride along the roads and hooded dwarves have been glimpsed skulking . Evil portents are everywhere threatening the good, credulous peasants of the town. Oh, and the younger daughter, Barbara, has been flirting and flouncing about, attracting attention of the wrong kind.
That is a very brief synopsis of the plot. And the plot lines are definitely tangled .
The author's primary characters continue to develop as complex individual personalities, and he gives the reader a good deal medieval local color. Those things help the reader along in a book that is a bit. too long. It seems odd that while there is a lot going on in the story, there are times when the reader, or, at least this reader, wished for a bit more forward progress.
There are at least three different threads to knit together, and thus author does the knitting to a satisfactory ending, but not with alacrity. Furthermore, In previous novels, the focus was on Jakob and his daughter Margaret; in this one the center has shifted to his son in law , Simon, the practitioner of what passed for medicine in those dark times. He is not as interesting a character on whic to focus a story , IMHO.
Yet, The Play of Death is a worthwhile medieval mystery for fans of the sub-genre. There is certainly enough treachery, murderous intent, human greed and stupidity to keep the pot boiling, although sometimes slowly.