Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Dark Monk

The Dark Monk
Author: Oliver Pötzsch (Translated from German by Lee Chadeayne)
Mariner, 2012
512 pages

(I read the first book in this series -- The Hangman's Daughter -- in February 2011. Click here to read that review and some additional background on the characters that's not included in this entry.)

The Dark Monk is the second in a sweet historical mystery series set in 17th Germany. All three main characters are back: Jakob Kuisl, the village executioner who has a side business in traditional herbal medicines; his young adult daughter, Magdalena; and Simon, the university-educated physician who has his eyes on Magdalena. They live in the Bavarian village of Schongau along the Lech River, not far from the Alps. Schongau is still recovering from the Thirty Years' War, (referred to as the war with the Swedes), which had a significant impact on the region and on European society in general. It's an interesting setting and time period for a mystery series, and the author does an excellent job of blending historical detail with a thrilling whodunnit.

The Dark Monk opens when a priest -- realizing he's just been poisoned and is about to die -- desperately scratches a cryptic message into the winter frost. Jakob and Simon find it and are immediately led to more cryptic messages, riddles, and clues as they investigate the priest's murder. Enter Benedikta -- a confident French-speaking, pistol-packing woman who joins the investigation and quickly becomes a bit of a competitor to Magdalena for Simon's attentions. Simon and Benedikta soon realize all those clues are leading them down the trail of an old Knights Templar treasure. But someone's watching them. A band of hooded monks, including one who smells like violets, lurks stealthily in the background. And some people may not be who they say they are . . .

A jealous Magdalena tries to distract herself by helping the town midwife. When the midwife (who also appears in the first book) needs some herbs and other supplies, Magdalena volunteers to travel to the nearby city of Augsburg to fetch them, thinking the trip will distract her from the Simon-Benedikta drama. Little does she know things are about to get even more dramatic.

Meanwhile, highway robbers are attacking travelers the roads leading from Schongau, and that's not good for business. Jakob is called away from his investigation of the priest's death to find the robbers and bring them to justice. Once again, his morals will be tested, and his humanity will be revealed. I love this character.

This series is a keeper. The third book, The Beggar King, is due in January. I've already pre-ordered it!