In the third installment of the historical mystery series featuring Magdalena Kuisl, the hangman's daughter, Oliver Potzsch shifts the location to Regensburg, a bustling German city awaiting a meeting of the most powerful members of the German Empire.
Potzsch has descended quickly to a formula, and one that has become tiresome in rather short order. His checklist includes gruesome scenes of physical torture, the misogynistic views of 17th century Germany, the fight-to-the-death scene featuring Jakob Kuisl, the hangman, the shrill lovers' tiff between Magdalena and her diminutive lover Simon Fronweiser, and a subterranean world. Readers of the three books in the series get a distinct whiff of "been there, done that."
The premise had promise: Jakob is lured to Regensburg by a letter that states his sister is sick and may be dying. Instead he is framed for her murder and tortured by the Regensburg hangman, a neat plot turnabout. The substrata of Regensburg's population is people by beggars, thieves, prostitutes and cripples, all led by Nathan the Wise, THE BEGGAR KING of the title. Nathan, ever a tribute to the German penchant for organization and order, rules over these misfits as if they were a guild. Magdalena and Simon also leave Schongau to travel to Regensburg, in order to start a new life. As the daughter of the hangman she and Simon cannot marry, as her station in life is distinctly that of the untermensch. Magdalena is also being harassed by one of the town fathers who has whipped the ignorant into a frenzy in a misdirected retribution over the death of a maid.
Once in Regensburg the couple discovers that Jakob is in jail, convicted of a double murder, which under Carolingian law must be supported by a confession. They are soon accused of murder and arson and thus begin an extended chase scene as they avoid just about everyone. Toss in inept bailiffs, a suspicious alderman and a bald-headed henchman, freemen plotting a republican overthrow of the government, and a foppish Venetian count and you have the makings of an entertaining read.
THE BEGGAR KING does offer a few neat plot twists, though it doesn't take much to unravel them. The sense of place and time were a bit distorted by the use of rather modern language. That might be laid at the feet of the translator of this German novel. As contrast, C.J. Sansom of the Matthew Shardlake series never seems to put a foot wrong.
Not Potzsch's best.