We are entering week three of the Author of Honor Series! I had a very difficult time choosing who I would feature and being an indecisive Libra does not help. I had narrowed my selection to two candidates, both with interesting backgrounds, but from different time periods. You might be wondering why I can’t just write about one this week and save the other for last. Well, that’s because I already have the final novelist picked, so I had to play the elimination game with this round. After much contemplation, I’ve decided to highlight a contemporary writer with a gruesome family history. Thus the reason for the preceding image. Read on to discover of whom I speak.
This novelist hails from Munich, Germany, and has nearly a dozen books under his belt. His works have been translated from his native tongue into more than 20 languages. Pötzsch gained widespread notoriety when he published the first installment in the Hangman’s Daughter Tales, which became an international bestseller. This is the story that introduced me to him. His name came up under suggested authors on my Kindle book store and the title alone was attention-grabbing. I’m now six books deep into the series!
The books focus on the adventures of hangman Jakob Kuisl and his family. The fascinating part is, although the story is fiction, the character is based on a real person, a forebear of Oliver Pötzsch. The novelist is descended from a line of executioners on his mother’s side. He has traced 14 hangmen in his family lineage who practiced between the 16th and 19th centuries in Bavaria. It may seem like a grim heritage, but it provided a treasure trove of grisly details for a captivating tale.
Within the plot, Pötzsch captures what it was like to be a hangman during the 1600s. It comes as no surprise that given the bloody nature of the trade, executioners and their families were treated as lepers of society. They were outcast and made to live on the outskirts of the town where they were employed. They were barred from all church practices and had no hope of working or marrying outside of their class. To put it succinctly, hangmen were forced to stick together and keep it in the family. Pötzsch sites this as is the reason his ancestors, the Kuisls, became a dynasty of assassins, making quite a name for themselves in the profession.
The author shares intriguing details on his website about what being a hangman entailed. It was a trade passed down from father to son. Apprentices being groomed started off with duties such as hanging and torturing. Talk about intense job training. Beheading was a punishment reserved for royalty, so passing a master’s examination was required before a hangman could chop off heads. Decapitation required precision if you wanted to accomplish the task in one clean swipe. A beheading gone wrong could lead to the executioner being run out of the village. But the most horrendous form of punishment was the breaking wheel, also called the Catherine wheel, which involved rupturing the victim’s limbs and mutilating the body. Once this was done, the criminal was often left on the wheel on display for the townsfolk.
Let’s take a break from the blood and gore. What many don’t know and what Oliver Pötzsch has made a point to incorporate into the Hangman’s Daughter Series, is that executioners were very knowledgeable of human anatomy and medicine. This was because studying corpses and resetting limbs were part of the job description. Hangmen were so well-acquainted with the practice of medicine that they even proved to be competition for doctors.
All of this has provided an intriguing basis for the Hangman’s Daughter Tales. This is one of the main reasons I’m drawn to the novelist. He weaves his ancestry and his imagination seamlessly to create narratives that are absolutely arresting. It shows that sometimes the remarkable stories we are looking to write reside within our own family history.
Discover more about Oliver Pötzsch and his works at the official website.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s Author of Honor. Only one left to go! I want to leave you in suspense, but I will disclose this hint: The next novelist takes us back in time to another century. Until then, I bid you all adieu.