“Never before nor since has Estonia been so closely connected with Western Europe as it was over the course of the 15th century.”
“It was a time, when the German Order's power was finally consolidated in the region; when towns and bastions were constructed, when guilds and monasteries flourished.”
“A constant inflow of colonizers and the golden age of the Hanseatic League ensured dense shipping connections with German and Scadinavian harbors.”
“Never before had Estonia been so strongly involved in the wars waged by European rulers for dominance on the Baltic Sea.”
“The Victual Brothers, borne of disputes between the German dukes and the Kingdom of Denmark, plundered the shoreline areas of Estonia cruelly; yet were also allies of the Tartu bishops in their internal quarrels with the German Order.”
Solving mysteries in medieval Tallinn
Apothecary Melchior stories are detective stories taking place in the medieval town of Tallinn. Melchior Wakenstede is a fictional character created by an Estonian writer Indrek Hargla. Melchior lives in the 15th century Tallinn. He has his own pharmacy shop and a good knowledge of all kinds of medicines. Therefore he is a respected citizen of the town. However, he is not a regular apothecary — one of his skills is solving all sorts of mysteries and crimes. These kinds of crimes, murders in the peaceful town of Tallinn are disturbing the calm everyday life from time to time. Melchior needs to step in as he feels the urge not only to solve the crimes and catch the murderer but also to keep his hometown safe for his family and all the good fellow citizens. With his friend, the town's Court Vogt Wentzel Dorn, they form a pair with Dorn having the authority to bring the criminals to justice and Melchior the logical reasoning skills to do so.
Solving mysteries, Melchior himself suffers from a mystical disease that may attack him in the most unpleasant situations. It is a mental disease and to avoid the unpleasant consequences of the attack, he even deliberately knocks himself out. Despite knowing a lot about all kinds of diseases, even Melchior does not know how to fight his own — it is the curse of his family, the curse of Wakenstede. He is afraid that the curse is going to carry on to his son.
“Melchior Wakenstede resembles the famous character Hercule Poirot of Agatha Christie’s stories.
[…] The similarities are, however, superficial, as Hargla is an independent writer who has based the apothecary’s character on the archetypical man who seems mysterious to strangers but is nevertheless a man of flesh and blood.”
— Peeter Helme, Estonian Literary Magazine
“Best Estonian export in international book markets.”
“First in the series of gothic murder mysteries, featuring Hanseatic Tallinn and an apothecary as a detective,
the novel has received positive reviews and been one of the best selling fiction books of 2010”
“A serial killer haunts a medieval town. The key to the bloodthirsty crimes is hidden in an old legend.”
“The best Estonian writer in the field of science fiction, fantastic horror and heroic fantasy.”
— Estonian Literature Center
“A (story) that enables a most wonderful glance into a European Hanseatic port of the Middle Ages: into a budding, adventurous townscape.”
— Estonian Literature Center
“There is a mystery and a truly fascinating situation: monasteries, guilds, various brotherhoods, the town council and its political factions, merchants and their links with overseas towns.”
— Peeter Helme, Estonian Literary Magazine
The author tells us a bit about the curse of Wakenstede in this short interview:
The Melchior stories have been greatly inspired by real historical events, but are still fully fictional. Reading the books gives you the feeling of traveling back in time as the author does not only demonstrate his good knowledge of historical facts, but also depicts the everyday life of the medieval town, values and customs of the time, clothes, the streets of the town and the houses from exterior to interior. Even the menu cards of the feasts are presented in spectacular detail. At the same time the stories follow the schema of a good detective novel, where it is hard for the reader to put down the book before the mystery is solved by Melchior.
- Apothecary Melchior and the Hangman's Daughter (novel)
Published by Varrak , 2011. pp. 431
- Apothecary Melchior and the Ghost of Sternsod (novel)
Published by Varrak, 2010. pp. 288
- Apothecary Melchior and the Mystery of St Olaf´s Church (novel)
Published by Varrak , 2010. pp. 312
To date Hargla has written three books with the fourth one expected soon and also two short stories, where Melchior demonstrates his puzzle and mystery solving skills.
The books of Melchior are extremely popular in Estonia — the most recently published book “Apothecary Melchior and the Hangman's daughter” was in the top of the list of the best-selling fiction books in 2011. The first book, “The Mystery of St. Olaf's Church” has been translated into Finnish, French, Latvian, Hungarian and German with translations of the stories to other languages to follow.
One feature length, six for TV
There is going to be one feature length fiction and a TV series of six episodes based on Indrek Hargla’s Apothecary Melchior stories.The series of six episodes presents legends of Tallinn’s mysteries that Melchior sets out to solve, each of which is a stand-alone episode.
The Apothecary Melchior Wakensted Gothic thriller series could start with the young Melchior losing his father to the mysterious Wakenstede’s illness and him taking over his father’s apothecary business with the hope of solving the mystery of this cursed illness as he carefully starts carrying out studies on remedies and their effectiveness.
ExitFilm producer Peeter Urbla talking about the Melchior project:
Script editor Wendy Wolfgarius about the Melchior project:
Melchior is unsuccessful until the end of his life in finding a remedy for this horrible life-threatening illness onset by secret circumstances, even though he has a talent for solving mysteries and is a skillful detective. This trail leads him to Estonia where he falls in love with his future wife, Keterlyn, an Estonian and a witch’s daughter.
The series ends with a big iconoclasm in Tallinn – a bloody battle between the catholics and the protestants, during which nearly all holy paintings in churches were destroyed, monks were murdered and catholic monasteries were liquidated.
Melchior, by this time in his 70s, is the head of a large family. His apothecary shop is located on the main square, the Town Hall Square of Tallinn, and he is one of the most respected citizens in the town. As he is investigating the legend of the disappearance of the Renaissance Master Bernt Notke’s famous Death Dance, he himself gets involved in this fatal dance and loses his life to the Wakenstede’s curse.
Full of history here and now
Tallinn's Old Town is in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Now being the capital of Estonia, Tallinn has always been an important town in the Baltic Sea region. Tallinn, called Reval back then, was granted the Lübeck law in 1248 and became the member of the Hanseatic League in 1285. The town was developing rapidly during the Middle Ages as it was a significant point in the merchant route connecting the Western Europe with the East, Russia.
The town was divided into two parts — the fortress which was on the hill of Toompea already before the arrival of the Christian crusaders in the beginning of the 13th century was rebuilt and strengthened during the centuries to follow first by the Danes and then by the Livonian Order; the lower town was inhabited by merchants of German origin who settled here in the 13th century.
The Old Town of Tallinn was mainly built up from the 13th to the 16th centuries, with such examples as the St. Olaf's Church first mentioned already in 1267 — as the church was constantly rebuilt during the times, it reached a height of 159 meters around the year 1500, being allegedly the tallest building in the world at that time; or the St. nicholas' Church built also already in the 13th century.
The town hall of Tallinn as we know it today was finished in 1404. The 15th century was a period of great transformation for the town when the wooden houses of the merchants were replaced by the stone houses. There was a wall to protect the town already in the 13th century, but it was enlarged and built stronger in the following centuries.
The first half of the 15thcentury, when the Melchior stories took place, was a time when the town was flourishing and therefore improving constantly. The Old Town we see today still has this medieval feeling with its churches, narrow streets and old merchant houses. A lot of Melchior's fans have said that the stories have triggered their interest in the Old Town as the author Indrek Hargla has put a lot of effort in depicting the town in the early 1400s.
Film producers (Exitfilm)