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Q&A with "New York Times" Best-Selling Author Oliver Pötzsch

New York Times best-selling author Oliver Pötzsch turned family lore into popular historical mysteries, starting with The Hangman’s Daughter. A descendant from a famous dynasty of executioners,  he created perhaps one of the most unual detectives in the genre... the loveable hangman Jakob Kuisl. Out this week with the third book in the series, The Beggar King, Pötzsch brings us up-to-date on his work and what life was really like in the 17th century.

OliverQuestion: The Beggar King is a bit different than the previous Hangman’s Daughter books because the hangman is on trial—why put Jakob in danger this way?

Oliver Pötzsch: Each novel needs a good starting point. A friend of mine asked me: “What happens if the hangman himself gets tortured and hung? Who does the job then?” This was the spark I needed. Everything in the book flowed from this. In real life, it was not unusual for the hangmen himself to end up on the scaffold. For the ambitious successor, this was the best way to demonstrate his skills.

Q: This book showcases a motley crew of supporting characters including the “king” of the beggars who rules a secret, underground world. How much of this was inspired by history, and how much did you invent?

BeggarKingO.P.: There used to be beggar gangs in bigger cities—sometimes their leaders are named in historical records—but I invented “Nathan the Wise,” the head of the beggars of Regensburg. The underground catacombs in which the gang lives do really exist. If you visit them you can see the history of Regensburg: from the Romans, over the Jewish Ghetto in the Middle Ages to the bunkers of the Second World War.

Q: In this book, the romance between Simon Fronwieser and Magdalena Kuisel continues to blossom. In the real world, would there have been any hope for this couple to marry, living in 17th century Bavaria?

O.P.: To be honest, it would have been very difficult for them, but I really wanted to give Simon and Magdalena a chance. Now a lot of my readers are asking if there will be Kuisel- Fronwieser children one day.

Q: If you could spend a week in 17th century, what would you most want to do or see?

O.P.: I like to write about these times but definitely would not want to live in them—not even for one week! No light after sunset, mud on the streets, and an infected tooth is death sentence—what would I want there? If there is one thing I appreciate about that time, it’s the directness.  If you fight for your life each single day you do not think about the meaning of life, your body-mass index, or your work-life balance. A little bit more of that these days wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Q: What are you working on besides the Hangman’s Daughter series?

O.P.: If you spend years studying torture and execution methods, you really need a balance. Currently I’m writing on a novel about the German Peasant Wars of the 16th Century. An exciting time that is often forgotten. You can find plenty of robber-knights, imperial agents, and legendary castle ruins. There’s so much good material for historical novels, you do not really need to invent extra stuff.


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