The Werewolf of Bamberg by Oliver Pötzsch


werewolf of bamberg
My Dad got Family Tree Maker software for Christmas and has been going crazy sussing out his family history. From his Swedish grandfather he has found direct ties to Eric X, King of Sweden from the 12th century. That’s pretty cool considering I always thought our family was all 100% peasant stock.

The one tough nut to crack in our family tree is a great-great grandfather that came from Bavaria: Frantz Bachmeier. We have census records of him living here in the United States, but there was never the name of a town given in Bavaria from whence he came. Family legend is that old Frantz and his brother escaped Germany disguised as priests to come to America in the late 1800’s. Neither one wanted to be conscripted into the military, as was common practice back then. He never alluded to the town he was from, we only knew Bavaria.

What the hell does this have to do with The Werewolf of Bamberg? Well, this entire series (beginning with The Hangman’s Daughter from 2011) is set in Bavaria and something in them resonates with me. These mystery stories are dark, twisted, and so very German. They tell the adventures of Jakob Kuisl, the executioner of Schöngau, a small village just north of the Alps. Jakob and his daughter Magdalena somehow manage to get themselves tangled in the mysteries of brutal murders.

Jakob Kuisl is a mountain of a man, fought in the 30 Years War between Germany and Sweden, and is a grouchy, taciturn, brawler. But he also is very intelligent and has a sympathetic heart underneath the crusty exterior. Even though he was brought up to learn the skills of torture and execution, he is also learned in the arts of healing and prefers that work to the extinguishing of life. And yet, for all his skill in restoring health, he and his family are considered dishonorable for his profession (as were all hangmen) and shunned by the entire town.

This particular novel finds the Kuisl family traveling to the medieval city of Bamberg where Jakob’s brother (also a hangman) is set to marry the daughter of a city scribe. Jakob and his brother Batholomäus have not spoken since they had a falling out as young men and Jakob abandoned the family to go fight in the war.

But of course, the wedding is overshadowed by body parts being found in the river. An arm, a leg, sometimes even a complete corpse of the Bamberg’s elder statesmen and their families have been washing up on the shores of the Riegnitz. Who is kidnapping, torturing, and dismembering these well-respected men and women? The rumor is that a werewolf has been seen wandering the city streets, attacking and tearing people apart. Doubtful of such a story, Jakob Kuisl with his intimate knowledge of the human anatomy thinks he can figure out the truth.

This book was a little long, but every page was jam-packed with clues, twining stories, colorful characters, and dark secrets that keep the plot moving swiftly to its shocking conclusion. It was a satisfying read and I look forward to his next installment.

In his afterword, the author says that history tells the most fantastic stories. In addition to the witch trials that decimated the population of Bamberg in the 1630’s, he also found several trials accusing people of being werewolves, which isn’t as well-known. It should be interesting what he finds to write about next.

I highly recommend this series to folks who enjoy dark and twisted historical fiction, and I can’t wait to visit Bamberg this summer and see all the places he talked about in the book.