In the middle of the winter in a small village in the Bavarian Alps, a parish priest unearths an amazing discovery during renovation of his church. Realizing the significance of the long-buried secret, the dutiful priest sends a dispatch informing his superiors of his finding. When his letter falls into the wrong hands, a gang of dark strangers with evil intent descends upon the village.
"THE DARK MONK, the follow-up to Oliver Pötzsch’s THE HANGMAN’S DAUGHTER, has all the elements of a compelling story --- a fascinating setting, rich historical events, dark secrets and intrigue."
On a dark winter night, Father Koppmeyer is poisoned and dies. Schongau’s diminutive medic, Simon Fronwieser, is called to investigate. It doesn’t take long for him to determine that the cleric has been murdered. To track down the killer, Simon solicits help from the much-feared but surprisingly compassionate hangman, Jakob Kuisl, and Kuisl’s attractive, but fiercely independent daughter, Magdalena. Their hunt intensifies when the late priest’s sister, Benedikta, arrives on the scene and demands to find out what who is responsible for her brother's death.
In the course of their investigation, the team discovers clues and riddles that lead them to dark days in the Catholic Church’s history --- to the times of the Crusades --- and a treasure hidden by the outlawed Knights Templar. To throw the hangman off his pursuit and thwart his progress in tracking down the real murderer, a city official assigns him to round up roving gangs of desperate and starving robbers hiding in the woods. Meanwhile, lurking in the shadows, a secretive and treacherous group of zealots follows Simon and Benedikta with the intent of preventing them from taking possession of the treasure.
THE DARK MONK, the follow-up to Oliver Pötzsch’s THE HANGMAN’S DAUGHTER, has all the elements of a compelling story --- a fascinating setting, rich historical events, dark secrets and intrigue. (An interesting fact: Kuisl is based on an ancestor of Pötzsch.) While the time period and historical details undoubtedly have been carefully researched, some awkward translations, along with a huge cast of characters, slow down the action. For example, a 17th-century European woman referring to herself in dialogue as a “businessperson” detracts from the story’s authenticity. Moreover, it is difficult to keep track of the characters, when even the lesser ones are given full names and some names are similar or the same: Magda, Magdalena, Martha, Maria, two Michaels, two Jakobs.
Despite these distractions, THE DARK MONK certainly will appeal to lovers of historical fiction peppered with mystery and suspense, as well as readers interested in a dark period of European history.
Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt on June 15, 2012