Day 475: The Beggar King

Cover for The Beggar KingBehavior is a problem in The Beggar King, the third of Oliver Pötzsch’s Hangman’s Daughter series, but the first I have read. Characters who are in peril of their lives stop running away from their pursuers to have arguments; characters who are fighting for their lives start flashing back to their pasts instead of concentrating on not being killed. To be very clear about this problem, the characters do what the plot requires. When the plot requires the three main characters to be apart, for example, Pötzsch has them begin arguing or just has someone walk off instead of finding a plausible reason for separating them.

The novel begins in 1662, when the Schongau hangman, Jakob Kuisl, gets a letter from his sister in Regensburg saying she is very ill. When he arrives at the bathhouse her husband owns, he finds her and her husband brutally slain. Immediately afterwards, the authorities rush in and arrest him. Now it is up to the Regensburg hangman to torture him into a confession.

In the meantime, back in Schongau Magdalena Kuisl and her lover Simon Fronwieser have run into trouble. As the hangman’s daughter, Magdalena is considered to be among the lowest rungs of society, and she is not allowed to marry Simon, a member of the middle class. A series of encounters with a group of bullies finally ends in the Kuisls’ house being set on fire. Instead of helping her mother and her eight-year-old twin siblings (who by the way behave more like four or five than eight) as might be expected, Magdalena and Simon decide to run off to Regensburg to start a new life.

I have been to Regensburg, which is a beautiful medieval city with an interesting history. We learn a bit about this history, and that is probably the most interesting part of this novel. The city is mostly described to us in terms of its mud and filth, however, not in terms of its lovely pastel stucco buildings decorated with beautiful medieval-era murals or winding cobblestone streets.

However unlikely, our three main characters have stumbled into two plots, one of revenge against Jakob for events during the Thirty Years’ War, the other involving an imminent threat to the Reichstag. Soon, all three protagonists are wanted by the authorities, Magdalena and Simon for arson after someone burns down the bathhouse with them in it, Jakob because he has escaped. Nevertheless, they chase all over the city without anyone noticing them unless Pötzsch needs them to be noticed. In the meantime, they unfailingly trust the wrong people and assault the ones who are trying to help them.

This novel is certainly full of frantic activity. Whether it is plausible at all is the question. I was particularly irked by the last 50 to 75 pages, in which all three characters are in peril in separate locations. Just as one scene reaches a climax, Pötzsch switches the action to another location. This tactic might foster suspense if done once, but Pötzsch uses this technique repeatedly over 50 pages simply to spin things out. I found this tactic so irritating that I almost quit reading at the end of the book!

Although the novel is written moderately well, the characters are one-dimensional and their behavior is driven by plot. The plot itself is ridiculous.