26 Sep

The Poisoned Pilgrim – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company/First Mariner Books edition 2013 – First published in German 2012 by Ullstein Buchverlag GmbH as Der Hexer und die Henderstochter. English translation (beautifully done) by Lee Chadeayne/Historical Fiction – 496 soft cover pages including the Afterword, and the Andechs Monastery Guide

Rarely do I come across a writer with such finesse of rhythm in his writing than words penned by Oliver Potzsch. The knit between the historical authentic and the fiction is so precise that one can not make out where each individual strand ends and the other begins.

The first telling of Jakob Kuisl, a Hangman by profession (Die Henkerstochter), first published in Germany in 2008. It was translated into English in 2010, followed by its sequels: The Dark Monk; The Beggar King; and, thusly The Poisoned Pilgrim. All these stories are set in Germany during the 1600s, giving us a clear picture of the life and times of a dishonorable hangman. In and around that life, Potzsch weaves his magic and herein begins the fiction. Especially appealing is that the author himself is a direct descendant of the main character, Jacob Kuisl who was indeed a hangman as his father before him and his father before him …….. and so on, as behind so forward.

The Poisoned Pilgrim venerates the Bavarian Holy Mountain at Andechs where once stood the Andechs Castle, dating back to the early 10th century, and destroyed in 1248. Shortly thereafter, atop the castle’s underground catacombs and dark, dank tunnels the Kloster Andechs Pilgrimage Church and Monastery was born, the oldest pilgrimage church in Bavaria. And, this is where our story begins:

Leaving Schongau to begin a religious pilgrimage to the Bavarian Holy Mountain to celebrate the Three Host Festival, the hangman’s daughter and her bathhouse surgeon husband find themselves embroiled in something more sinister than the history of the church itself when the duo stumbles upon a dark and sinister plot surrounding the brutal and tortuous murders of three monks. Wrongfully jailed is Brother Johannes, who was formerly a hangman and best friend of Jakob Kuisl. When Kuisl hears of this, he begins his own pilgrimage to the holy mountain enlisting the help of his daughter and son-in-law to find the real killer before the torture of his friend begins.

Oddly enough, or perhaps serendipitously, tomorrow September 27, 2014, begins the real pilgrimage of the Three Host Festival of the Andechs Monastery on the Holy Mountain in Bavaria, where Christ is worshipped in the sacrament of the Eucharist (thus the reference ‘three blood hosts’).

Potzsch gives us the experience of his stories through sight, sound and scent. His words do not read, they feel. A stellar storyteller, and this one is by far the best in the line of the Hangman tales.





  1. September 26, 2014 at 8:59 p09 #

    Interesting review. Love the hereditary lineage of the hangmen!

  2. WORDMAN September 26, 2014 at 8:59 p09 #

    Thank you my friend.

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