Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Switzerland: Where the Idyllic Created Frankenstein - a guest post byTracee de Hahn

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: How do you make the perfect place into the setting for a murder? Don't ask me - I chose an economically failing town in upstate New York plagued by rotten weather. Who needs the challenge of creating bad deeds in a perfect part of the world?

Tracee de Hahn does. Her debut novel, SWISS VENDETTA, introduces readers to Detective Agnes Lüthi, new to widowhood and to the Violent Crimes Unit in Lausanne. I know what you're thinking, because I thought the same thing: There are violent crimes in Switzerland? Land of the sweet baby cheeses and wooden clocks? Country of cow-dotted meadows beneath majestic alps? Nation famous for its precision, discretion, and high standards? 

Today, Tracee tells us  about the Switzerland she's come to know and love; the good, the bad, and...we can't say ugly, can we. How about...questionable?

Thanks Reds for inviting me to come and hang out and chat.

We are deep in the heart of winter – a season I love – and I’m enjoying the snow, although I do dream of ‘bigger and better’ snow in Switzerland.

My husband is Swiss and I was fortunate to live there for several years. Was it idyllic? Absolutely. We moved to Lausanne from another European city, which I won’t name – it is farther south and built on water – where things didn’t always work perfectly. In Switzerland, all was perfection, from the views, to the food, to the people on the streets.

Well, maybe not absolutely perfect.

First off, even getting the name right is hard. There are four official languages - French, German, Italian and Romansh - resulting in four informal names for the country: Suisse, Schweiz, Svizzera, and Svizra. The official name is Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft (Swiss Confederation in English), although the literal translation is more like ‘the brotherhood of men who stood in a field and swore an oath of eternal cooperation and friendship.’ To cause more confusion, the government chose another name for the international registration code: The Confederatio Helvetica, derived from the Helvetii, one of the local pre-Roman tribes. Masters of compromise, and why you see CH stickers on cars across the country.

At roughly twice the size of New Jersey, Switzerland is a big, diverse village. The natural beauty of the country was ‘discovered’ by the English in the 19th century and worldwide tourism was born. This happened in 1863, which was a good year. The Red Cross was founded in Geneva and Mr. Thomas Cook of Great Britain conducted the first package tour of the country. The Brits climbed the mountains and sailed the lakes, leaving five star hotels and restaurants in their wake.

In addition to its natural beauty, Switzerland is a land of trust. People expect their neighbors to follow the laws. They trust each other to make important national decisions together. Including one memorable vote on whether or not to purchase new fighter planes AND whether or not to disband the carrier pigeon corps. It was yes to both. The US sold them F-16s and the pigeons were put out to pasture, so to speak.

Of course, even in a perfect world not everyone behaves correctly. This often means that when the Swiss are faced with dishonesty or deceit they are alarmingly innocent. Or perhaps they have been turning a blind eye for so long they don’t want to admit it? Their role in World War II? In certain banking practices? Hmmm.

Secrecy is a national pastime. Hidden amongst the mountains and lakes are dozens of deep tunnels created as army bunkers during World War II. Today, many are open to the public as hotels, museums and restaurants, while others store cheese and mushrooms. Most had concealed entrances (fake boulders, castle ruins), but a few were hidden in plain sight, including one bright pink house near the small town of Gland. There, the garage doors open to reveal a cannon and array of machine guns in case the enemy made it over the mountains.

My husband attended boarding school at the Institut La Gruyère and the village and castle of the counts of Gruyère remain a favorite vacation spot. The landscape is bucolic, and at the foot of the hill is the Maison du Gruyère where the famous cheese is created. Cheese is one of the friendly and wholesome associations with Switzerland… until you read about the cheese mafia. Who knew that those fondue parties of the 1970s were the result of a masterplan!

Of course, writers have made their mark with figures ranging from Lord Byron and the Shelleys, to Nietzsche and Rousseau. Byron brought his personal physician with him and the man was inspired to write The Vampyre (progenitor of the romantic vampire novels of today) while, of course, Mary Shelley was inspired to create Frankenstein. All in an idyllic summer setting!

With its beauty and diversity, its history and geography, I’ve always found Switzerland inspiring and wonder what places inspire others? And why? 

JULIA: Fondue the result of Swiss plotting. It all begins to make sense, now. What do you think, dear readers? One lucky commentor will win a copy of SWISS VENDETTA!
On the eve of the worst blizzard Lausanne has seen in centuries, Inspector Agnes Lüthi is called out to investigate her very first homicide case. On the lawn of Château Vallotton, at the edge of Lac Léman, a young art dealer has been found stabbed to death. Agnes finds it difficult to draw answers out of anyone—the tight-lipped Swiss family living in the château, the servants who have been loyal to the family for generations, the aging World War II survivor who lives in the neighboring mansion, even the American history student studying at the château’s library. As the storm rages on, the roads become impassable, the power goes out and Agnes finds herself trapped in the candlelit halls with all the players of the mystery, out of her depth in her first murder case and still struggling to stay afloat after the death of her husband. 

Find out more about Tracee, SWISS VENDETTA and la vie suisse at her site. You can read more of her writing at her blog, Missdemeanors, discuss books at Goodreads, and follow her on Twitter as @Luthimysteries.


  1. Cheese and clocks fit right in with things of Switzerland that initially come to mind but F-16s and a carrier pigeon corps . . . who knew?
    Thanks, Tracee, for the eye-opening introduction; it sounds like an amazing place. I am looking forward to reading “Swiss Vendetta” . . . .

  2. Tracee, the book sounds intriguing - and thanks for all those great facts about Switzerland! I've been in the French Alps and in Geneva, briefly, but would love to explore the country further one day.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Tracee: I would love to read Swiss Vendetta. I certainly don't remember reading a mystery set in Switzerland for a while. I have been lucky enough to travel to Geneva, Zurich and Davos for work, but I have never been to Lausanne. The trains are very punctual, the scenery is gorgeous and like you said, depending on what part of Switzerland you were in, being able to speak and read several languages came in handy.

  5. I'm glad you mentioned these particular cities - a perfect example of how diverse the country is even though it's so tiny! Geneva is a very French city and feels like a place for serious diplomatic business. Zurich is a (forgive me for saying this) tiny bit uptight. I guess the demands of banking and insurance and industry have made everyone very concerned and of course Davos is a countryside get away - in summer or in the midst of a snowy winter.

    Lausanne is only about a half hour from Geneva but has a much looser feel (again... it is a city for those English tourists! who just wanted to relax!).

  6. Tracee, this sounds fascinating! I must know about how much research you have to do for your books...

  7. WWII bunkers? You have to use that in one of your books, Tracee! I've never read a mystery set in Switzerland and Swiss Vendetta sounds wonderfully cozy. I love winter and am looking forward to reading your descriptions of it. If I don't win a free copy, I plan on buying one right away. :)

  8. Joan,
    You mentioned the shock of hearing F 16s mentioned in conjunction with Switzerland. I felt that exact same thing! We were living in Lausanne for that particular "votation" and I distinctly remember the crowds, and the people with their signs pro and con. I couldn't believe that such a high tech (expensive) decision was on the public ballot. Even better that it was at the same time as the pigeon dilemma. Another time they voted on whether or not to continue with the bicycle corps. I admit to a bit of a giggle at the pigeons and bicycles in the day of high tech everything.... on the other hand if technology fails us they may want them back.

    Research. That's a great question. My university degrees are in architecture and history, which gave me a leg up on knowing how or where to look for information since research can be a rabbit hole. This also suggested a few of the themes in the book in advance of writing. I did do quite a bit, but it was often to clarify certain things, or make sure I was accurate in, let's say, the specific gun or knife. I immersed myself in some reading but, honestly, that was because I found it so fascinating I had to admit that it was starting to fall into the realm of enjoyment rather than research. A lot of the research was for backstory so you won't necessarily 'see' it here...but it was a fun part of the writing process!

  9. Wow, this books does sound great. I'm surprised Minotaur didn't send along a copy for the blog. Off to order! Thanks for stopping by the Reds, Tracee.

  10. I'm very excited to read The Swiss Vendetta, Tracee. I've never been to Switzerland, but I know when I am flying over the Alps I get this odd urge to jump out the window they are so breathtaking. I can already tell you are a writer who pays great attention to detail, which I always enjoy, particularly in a foreign setting.

    So proud of you, my fellow Miss Demeanor!

  11. Cheese mafia? How intriguing. Love your descriptions of Switzerland, Tracee. We've been several times and it IS the perfect country in which to be a tourist. They speak every language and everything is orderly and easy to understand and breathtakingly beautiful.

    Wondering, what was the hardest thing to get used to again, moving back?

  12. Oddly enough, I knew about the cheese mafia and fondue, as well as the votations--not sure how I knew this though. Maybe a Rick Steves' radio segment on PBS. We could use a system of votations, right now....

    Looking forward to delving into Agnes' story--I thought the cover captured a sense of her loneliness and pain in the face of all that scenic beauty. Congratulations!

  13. Michele,
    Thanks! And it is breathtaking.....

    Well, the Swiss are all about control (hence the cheese mafia! Not a cosa nostra style intent.... more of a "we will make you eat our food until you are very satisfied" style). The perfection extends to EVERYTHING! Once I called the evening before to reserve a taxi the next morning. The company asked for the destination (perfectly understandable to allow them to schedule) and time. It was for 6:15 am to the train station. The man said that that sounded like I was taking the 6:35 to Zurich and therefore he would send the cab for a 6:05 pickup. On the one hand, very helpful. On the other hand..... let me miss my train! It's my responsibility!

    Moving back.... that's a good question. I've always moved easily between places. The only thing I miss when overseas is that ability to order brewed iced tea in a restaurant. I think that the thing I miss the most about living in Switzerland is how close we were to so many very different things - in Switzerland we had the lake, the mountains for skiing, the diversity of the different cities there.... and quite frankly the charm. bus we were so close to most of Europe. About 4 hours from Paris, double that to Venice. Literally it felt like the world was at our fingertips!

    AND can't wait to see who wins the copy of Swiss Vendetta!

  14. Yes! PBS did a great segment on the cheese mafia! Maybe they'll do one on the bunkers.

    When we first moved there I was constantly craning my neck on the highways to see if I could spot the 'fake' rock leading to the tunnels. Almost impossible to see. They stored fighter jets there. Entire hospitals were installed, ready to go. We think of Switzerland as neutral, but it is more correctly armed neutrality. They prefer to remain neutral, but they aren't going to let someone walk in! I think that this mentality came about after about 600 years of letting people walk in. Their position at the center of Europe meant they were on the path of warring armies a few times too many!

  15. I'm with Hallie - cheese mafia? And here I always associate Switzerland with this peaceful, mountain setting devoid of violence. Although now that I think about it, Agatha Christie may have written a book set there.

  16. What beautiful photos. I think it's such an interesting idea to involve a culture of secrecy and privacy in a mystery. Are characters not being forthright because they have something to hide or they are simply not used to sharing other people's business?

  17. Tracee, thanks for the history and geography lessons! It's especially interesting about the armed neutrality; I've never thought of it that way.

    My European travel has skirted Switzerland: northern France, Bavaria, Italy, and Austria. In Innsbruck I kept getting confused because so many aspects of the countryside are what we think of as Swiss, thanks to Heidi: the Alps, snow, and tinkly-belled cows.

  18. Now I must add Switzerland to my travel list. Cheese mafia? That makes me sad. Cheese seems so deliciously innocent.

    Kristi F

  19. I spent a week in Switzerland about 25 years ago, and it was truly spectacular. Most of our time was spent in Interlaken with a day trip to Bern. We had the opportunity to take the train up the Jungfrau, which was amazing. At the time, the country was incredibly expensive for recent graduate students; we could only afford to eat McDonalds and Toblerone (not complaining about the chocolate.) Is that still the case, Tracee?

    I think this book would be perfect for a hygge practice, per our recent discussion about that!

  20. Off to check this out. How can I resist the cheese Maria!

  21. My husband and I have talked about visiting because we appreciate the marvelous toys.

    A cheese mafia? Why am I not really surprised?

  22. Ingrid, you're right - a mystery set in a Swiss chateau DOES sound like the perfect read for a hygge night!

    Prior to Tracee's visit here, I was looking up "mysteries set in Switzerland," and while there are several thrillers set in that country (usually related to WWII and/or banking) I really couldn't find anything comparable to SWISS VENDETTA. In fact, there are precious few crime novels originating from Swiss authors! Tracee, sounds like an opportunity for foreign editions in French, German, Italian and Romansch!

  23. I am very intrigued. I visited Switzerland 20 years ago with my family, and going back via the pages of fiction sounds like fun.

  24. No one should be saddened by the cheese mafia! In Switzerland even the 'bad stuff' is really pretty nice! Don't forget that Sherlock Holmes 'died' there.... at the Reichenbach falls in the Northern Swiss Alps. Given the location maybe Doyle decided that such bad event in this lovely country was inappropriate (rather than that popular notion that the clamoring fans insisted on resurrection!).

    This is one of the reasons that I'm drawn to Switzerland for my books. Let's be honest folks, bad things happen everywhere!

    I'm afraid that memories of the expense of a visit to Switzerland still hold true. They don't have the inexpensive slices of pizza or fish and chips or tremezzini finger sandwiches you would find in other European countries. Probably because the Swiss have one of the most stable economies in the world and an incredibly high standard of living. Now, they are paid according to the economy where they live, but for travelers from anywhere else the prices can seem steep. Keep in mind that they import a huge amount of goods. The Swiss have few natural resources and not a lot of usable land compared to their overall land mass. Much of the wealth comes from banking and insurance. Another large sector is turning raw materials into something more precious - think about watches. And of course those cows are always working.... churning out the raw materials for cheese and contributing material for chocolate!

    Something I think people might not associate with Switzerland is white wine. In the state of Vaud, which is where Lausanne is located, there are large vineyards (by Swiss standards) and the wine is excellent. They don't make enough to export so you have to give it a taste while in country! I have a feeling that wine will feature in one of my book..... Does anyone remember the dead man in the vat in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose? I think that was wine.....certainly memorable!

  25. I can only stop in quickly this morning, but I have to say that, Tracee, I would buy Swiss Vendetta based on the cover alone. Just perfect. Of course, I thoroughly enjoyed you talking about Switzerland. And, Julia, whenever I hear "baby cheeses," I think of the Modern Family episode where Gloria was supposed to order "baby Jesus" and, of course, she got baby cheeses.

  26. Yes, Tracee, Ingrid is right. Perfect hygge, which I think Swiss may do almost as well as the Danes, even if they don't call it that.

    And I LOVE your cover!

    I am going to have to read up on the cheese "mafia", too:-)

  27. Travelled to Switzerland as part of a 14 days tour with the Rick Steves group and loved Switzerland. We visited the top of Europe and stayed in Lauterbraunn )sp?) valley near Gimmewald. After hiking the Alps, we ate rosti, aka hash browns in the USA. Had some Fondue cheese with bread before dinner.

    Hotel was strict - they would not allow us to take out breakfast food to save for lunch.

    I remember the Sherlock Holmes story set in Switzerland. Wasn't there a Pink Panther movie with Peter Sellers set in Switzerland?

    My mom remembers visiting Bern in Switzerland in the 1960s and the police would not allow them to play guitars in the evening, Seems Bern the town was strict about playing music?

    Love the book cover. Looks like the lady has a pixie cut - I am guessing based on the back of her head.

    Please pick me :-) I would love to win your book.

    lbooks478 at

  28. Tracee, what a terrific place to set a mystery! I spent a day or two in Lucerne 50 years ago (!) on a tour of Europe for students, and I long to go back and explore. It sounds like your book is an ideal way to start. Best of success with it!

  29. I love the thought of a cheese mafia. I'm imagining initiation rituals centered around fondue. I'd love to visit Switzerland. I'm all for precision and orderliness.

  30. I love to visit new places through the pages of a mystery! I can't remember reading one set in Switzerland. The book sounds wonderful.

  31. These comments take me right back to Switzerland! I love the common themes from travels.

    I don't know if Bern is particularly strict about music in the streets.... the entire country is pretty "noise conscious," so I wouldn't be surprised. Part of the polite, respect your neighbors policy.

    I'm thrilled about the reaction to the cover. I'm partial myself. The great people at St Martins did wonderful work interpreting the landscape and Agnes - she's got short hair that just won't stay in place!

  32. It sounds like all kinds of interesting things have gone on in Switzerland. When we lived in Ohio one of our fellow parishioners was Swiss and had immigrated to the Cleveland area after WWII. She said there so many unwed mothers after WWI that the government made it illegal for girls to fraternize with soldiers when the second war came along. She met a Polish soldier who went on to fight with the French army. She left Switzerland to marry him. After the war he was offered French citizenship but they opted to move to the U.S. where they had family to sponsor them. I thought it was another side of the Swiss revealed!

  33. Switzerland had brought me one of my favorite meals - raclette.

    I worked with a Swiss woman 15 years ago and she introduced me to it. Now we have our own grill and struggle every year to find the raclette cheese. But it's worth it. :)

  34. The book sounds like something I should read. For one thing, I can't recall if I've ever read a mystery set in Switzerland. I should remedy that!

    I read today's blog post at the end of my lunch break. A coworker's mom is from Switzerland. Late this afternoon I asked him what he could tell me about the cheese mafia in Switzerland. He burst out laughing, assuming it was a joke, so I pulled out my cell phone and accessed JRW for him. He read through everything, including the comments, and now has questions for his mom!

    Deb Romano

  35. I agree that many interesting things happen in Switzerland! And I encourage everyone to try either raclette or fondue at some point (raclette is a bit trickier since you really need a special melting machine).... fondue can now be purchased at many stores in prepackaged pouches (really quite good) OR you can buy gruyere and emmenthal and melt them!

    It was such fun to hear other memories of Swiss travel and Swiss friends. Thanks!

  36. Hi, Tracee! Thanks so much for visiting Jungle Red. I love your descriptions of Switzerland and the Swiss. It all sounds idyllic. I've flown over the Alps but sadly did not get to visit. I always swore I would go back and now you've bumped it up on my list of places to visit. Your mystery sounds terrific, too. I can't wait to read it.

  37. I fell in love with Switzerland through a typical connection -- Heidi. One of my most favorite childhood books (and I loved the Shirley Temple movie too).

    I visited the country one, just Geneva, but it was wonderful.

    Tonight, as it happens, we had a fondue party for our grandkids -- one grandchild, a six year old, has said that she could "marry cheese" so we thought she would love it. The traditional recipe was a little adult for her taste but she loved the idea of dipping food in cheese! And, for Valentine's Day we plan chocolate fondue. (We have purchased a new electric fondue pot.)

    This book sounds terrific, and I will look for it. I love the idea of secrets hidden in paradise.

  38. Tracee, I can't believe it! I just saw where you will be in my hometown of Owensboro, KY on 2/15. I am so excited and will definitely be there to see you!

  39. I think one of the Francis Beeding books went to Switzerland, but that was long ago...also Helen MacInnes, I think they should have kept the pigeons!!!

  40. I think EVERYONE should try to visit Switzerland - even if only through a book! So glad to hear of the many similar thoughts and fond memories of travels there.

    I leave you with one final question. If you could only have one cheese for the rest of your life - what would it be? My husband and I agree on Gruyere. (And not because he went to school in that village!)

    Best to everyone and looking forward to seeing some of you when I'm out on tour!

  41. I have family in Switzerland--in Lausanne, in fact!--and I visit often. Tracee gets it right...under all that hearty mountain air and good chocolate there's an undercurrent of secrecy that plays right into the able hands of a clever mystery writer like Tracee! I've read this novel, and it's great! Enjoy!

  42. Yay, so happy to learn that I won a copy of Swiss Vendetta! Tracee, I sent you an email.