The Dark Monk
In the dead of winter in a 17th-century Bavarian village, a priest discovers he’s been poisoned. The village executioner, his headstrong daughter, and her dandyish doctor beau begin investigating the priest’s murder, and what they find sends them on a dangerous quest for Templar treasure.
Pötzsch’s first novel, The Hangman’s Daughter, boasted swift plotting, a distinctive setting, and unique characterization – executioner Jakob Kuisl is a compelling mix of folk wisdom, empathy, and brutality. Sadly, The Dark Monk is a less engaging book: the Templar bandwagon groans under the weight of another occupant, and Catholic Church as unmitigated villain is also a tired theme. The major fault of this novel (and its predecessor), however, is the prose – village women are “broads”; a random choice of page yields a book that “burns like the dickens,” a priest whose “nerves are shot,” and a woman who’s taunted as “Madame Smarty Pants.” These are just a few examples of the rampant anachronism which, along with repetitive phrasing, plagues the novel and constantly pulls the reader out of period. It’s difficult to know where the blame lies; this work was translated from the original German, and one is inclined to believe the unfortunate phraseology to be the fault of inept translation. Regardless, it should be addressed by a careful editor for the next in the series, which hopefully will more closely resemble the inaugural book in its appeal and plotting.