This is a charming cozy mystery about a hangman, an innocent lass, a manly suitor, and a murder in Nuremberg, in 1580. Well, cozy, that is, if you don’t mind the descriptions of the tortures and hangings that are part of the hangman’s job. But, really, even with the tortures and hangings, it isn’t noir. It is a love story, a mystery, and a fascinating well-researched look at life in 16th century Germany.
Katharina is a foundling and has been working as a maid for the Widow Zahlmeisterin. The Widow is poor, really, and her only beloved possession is a precious pearl necklace.
One day, a spiteful and jealous woman, Margareta Beckin, comes to visit the Widow. After she leaves, Kathi (Katharina) goes into the parlor to find the Widow murdered, and the necklace gone. Frightened, she climbs out the window and runs away. As she feared, she is fingered as the culprit. She meets a handsome young guardsman who shelters her, but is eventually forced to turn her into the authorities where she will have to undergo torture so that it can be determined if she is the murderer.
The hangman, disliked and feared by everyone but his adoring wife, is really a decent fellow, a man of compassion, and he puts into action a plan to save Kathi from the duties of the hangman’s office. From there, a series of almost comic events ensues. A number of unexpected twists and turns makes the plot one that keeps you turning pages. Will poor Kathi be convicted and be hanged or get her head chopped off? Egad.
You can probably guess who dunnit, but it is just a wonderful story. It is based on real events and people, using historical documents. The hangman, (Meister Frantz Schmidt), his wife, the hangman’s assistant, the tailor’s Widow Zahlmeisterin, Margareta Beckin, and some other lesser characters actually lived, and were involved in some of the events of the story.
This is the first of a series. A mystery series about a medieval compassionate hangman. You don’t come across that very often, do you!
Mz. Parzefall is the translator for the two In Maat’s Service books which I discussed here and here. How delightful to find that she is an author in her own write (hahaha see what I did there?) with a number of other books.
I will be looking forward to the next in the series.