By Oliver Pötzsch.
Simon and Magdalena have gone on a pilgrimage to the Andechs monastery along with various others from Schongau. But before you can say, “In nomine patri, et filii, et spiritui sancti”, Magdalena has spotted a light in the belfry of the church and must absolutely stick her nose in so that she can take part in the book’s first Dramatic Moment™.
And not too long after, a couple of monks turn up dead. The culprit is soon fingered, another monk, who, as it turns out, is an old friend of Jakob Kuisl’s from the war. And that’s how Kuisl ends up in Andechs, snooping around disguised as a monk. Oh, and he takes his grandsons with him so that the boss monster will have a hostage or two for a Dramatic Moment™.
Meanwhile, there’s some mysterious affliction going around and Simon, who’s the only doctor in the house, is up to his arms in patients with spotty tongues.
By now you’re probably wondering whether Simon and Magdalena are on the verge of getting divorced since they’re squabbled in the previous two books. Fear not, reader, you shan’t be disappointed. This time the love rival is Matthias, the handsome, mute knacker’s assistant, who stands high in Magdalena’s estimation because he pays attention to the children, while she rages that Simon is insufficiently involved in the domestic sphere. However, the moment he’s in danger later in the book, Magdalena is off in hot pursuit, his previous failings and shortcomings forgotten.
Things haven’t ended well for previous love rivals. Benedikta Koppmeyer (or whatever her real name is) was unmasked as a bandit, and Silvio Contarini was unmasked as a secret agent for the Turks, hellbent on getting everyone in Augsburg stoned on contaminated bread. Does it end any better for Matthias? Does he end up being the villain’s assistant? You’ll have to read the book to find out whether he gets pushed from the bell tower of the church, surviving just long enough to write some messages to Magdalena.
Everything’s sorted out. The boss monster turns out to be a monk who wants to play Dr Frankenstein (“Copyright violation!” squeaked Mary Shelley. Don’t worry, meine Liebchen, it predates Dr Frankenstein by about 150 years. Uncle Adolf says, ‘Keine Copyright Violation’). The disease gives Simon some leverage against the Semers, and some influence with the Count of Wittelsbach after he cures the man’s son.
Pötzsch is getting a bit repetitious with the squabbling between Simon and Magdalena, the inevitable love rival (who like the guest star in murder mysteries, is always a villain), the flimsy excuses for one or other of the main characters to join the other two, and the flimsy excuses excusing their transgressions. This is essentially telly-style writing, but where another author might find some way to unite the various strands of the plot, Pötzsch’s efforts often sound contrived.
Magdalena has become increasingly annoying. She’s written as if she fell through a hole in the space-time continuum from the 21st century and ended up in the 17th. I suppose she’s meant to be a strong female character, but comes across as oblivious (she seems exempt from the social niceties of the age) and self-centred. She’d be no less annoying if she was demure and obedient, but she needs to be dialled down a few notches. Unfortunately, the damage has already been done so that trying to make Magdalena less annoying would be irksomely noticeable.
The story is decent enough, but I think it’s time to look elsewhere for something to read.
What’s in a name?
The title of the book is baffling because while many pilgrims end up suffering from food poisoning, and a monk or two are fried in phosphorus, there are no individual poisonings per se. Possibly it refers to Simon being paralysed by some concoction from the West Indies, but there are better titles for this volume such as The Mad Monk or The Abbot of Andechs or The Gruesome Golem or … [That’s enough suggestions. –ed.]