Life in Schongau, Bavaria in 1659 is pretty bleak. The town is rebuilding in the decade after the Great War - orphans abound, jobs are limited, and the townsfolk are quick to accuse each other of misdeeds. Although the rampant witch trials of the town's past have faded to a dim collective memory, it doesn't take much to start rumors of dark deeds swirling again. When a young orphan is found murdered and branded with a “witch’s mark,” a scapegoat is quickly located in Martha Stechlin, the town’s midwife who dabbles in herbs and encourages the orphans’ company. She is quickly taken into custody and it is up to Jacob Kuisl, the town’s hangman, to torture the truth out of her in The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch, translated by Lee Chadeayne.
Every town at this time has a hangman, who inherits his profession from his father. Although Jacob Kuisl is well-read and financially well-to-do, the townsfolk routinely shun him because hangmen are considered the lowest in the town’s social order. When Martha is jailed, Kuisl suspects that something is not right because he has worked with her for decades and knows her to be an honorable and gentle midwife. He secretly starts researching her case to prove her innocence, while publically fulfilling his job as her torturer.