As THE COUNCIL OF TWELVE opens in 1672, hangman Jacob Kuisl, a true specialist in a time that needs his skills, is preparing for a journey to Munich, with his family. That includes daughter Barbara, who needs to get engaged, and daughter Magdelena, a crime-solver of unusual courage and determination (highly motivated by the need to protect and survive for her child).
It will be Magdelena who eventually takes the greatest risks in trying to solve a rash of young women's deaths in Munich. But she comes by her investigative side directly from her father, who's working the crimes from another angle, the basic autopsy, before the term was well known:
"Then let's do it." Kuisl pulled the girl's dress up. He got out his knife, which he sharpened as frequently as his executioner's sword, and made the first insertion from the breastbone downward.Yet Jacob Kuisl knows a belly full of deadly nightshade when he finds it (in fact, he'd already suspected it), and just like that, he's making progress on the case in front of him.
The hangman had cut open dozens of bodies in his life. Like Deibler, he was fascinated by the inside of humans, of which very little was known as yet. Kuisl believed he had more medical knowledge than most studied physicians from here to Schongau. He was the proud owner of a small Latin library at his house, hundreds of medicines, and countless surgical instruments, which he sometimes lent to his son-in-law.
Because he's the physician and I'm just a dishonorable hangman, Kuisl thought.
Too bad Magdelena doesn't have as easy a route to her part of the investigation. Yes, she learns a lot, very quickly, while being held captive at threat of life and other losses. But cut off from her husband and her father, what can she actually do to protect herself and prevent other deaths?
Pötzsch (with translator Lee Chadeayne) spins a fast-paced tale with abundant risk, suspense, and twists -- while smoothly carrying the 1600s into all possible details of setting and crime. And when a colleague complains about how the hangmen's association is being treated during the hunt for the criminal, saying, "In good old Bamberg, folks still appreciate a hangman and don't chop off his hands and feet," Jacob Kuisl quickly replies, "In good old Bamberg, folks were hunting for a werewolf only a few years ago." He's got quite a challenge in trying to persuade his colleagues that the serial killer who's been murdering young women might come after them, too, for what they may already know or guess.
At close to 500 pages, THE COUNCIL OF TWELVE is a long romp that transports summer reading into fresh terrain, with humor and clever detection. In addition, as I mentioned when reviewing last year's title in the series (The Play of Death), you may have extra reason to grab a copy if any of the following pertain to you:
1. You collect the reading experience of mysteries set in Bavaria.
2. You pursue fiction set in the 1600s.
3. You're planning to see the Bread & Puppet Theater in action in Vermont (or treasure having done so in the past, especially in the 1970s and 1980s).
And in addition, there's a dog at stake in this one. Talk about diverse! The series is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and THE COUNCIL OF TWELVE is available May 29.
PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.