Murder Books is pleased to present the following interview with Tracee de Hahn, the author of Swiss Vendetta. This is Tracee’s debut novel and the first of what I hope are many more stories about the exploits of Agnes Lüthi, her resilient and captivating main character. In this tightly plotted murder mystery, Agnes is already struggling with new beginnings, both personal and professional, when the demands of her case force her ever deeper into the hidden world of today’s Swiss aristocracy where she must confront an intriguing pool of suspects, each and every one of whom has plenty of means, motive, and opportunity lurking in the shadows of their lives. Tracee has degrees in Architecture and European History, from the University of Kentucky, and she makes excellent use of both to set the scene and to create the web of societal circumstances that provide such fertile ground for a murder mystery.
MB: First, thank you for taking the time, out of what must be a very busy schedule, to participate in this interview you. Swiss Vendetta is your first published novel. Is it the first novel you’ve ever written?
Tracee: While studying architecture in college I started writing with my father. He is a physician and it was a mini-crash course in how to write, led by two people who were teaching themselves and each other at the same time. We wrote one screen play (I don’t remember the storyline, but something about a train comes to mind. Maybe an old-fashioned steam engine?) and two thrillers (one about South American drug cartels and the possibility of a terrorist attack in America, the other about China and political prisoners and a lot of other bad stuff). Since then, I’ve written several books over the years, experimenting with various genres. There is one manuscript that I would like to eventually pursue as a second series.
MB: Swiss Vendetta is crime fiction, but you have three non-fiction titles to your credit. Tell us a bit about those?
Tracee: By happenstance I was seated next to an editor at a dinner party. He needed someone to write a book as part of the series Crime, Justice and Punishment. The topic was child abuse and neglect and he wanted a balance between the seriousness of the theme and the storyline the series required. I went on to write two more books for them (all young adult series) – The Blizzard of 1888 and The Black Death. Uplifting stories for their Great Disasters series! My graduate degree in history and research skills certainly came to the fore.
MB: I, and I assume other readers as well, am interested to know what leads a writer to the crime fiction genre. I have friends who are retired homicide detectives who write crime fiction. From a write-what-you-know perspective, their choice seems very logical. You, however, trained as an architect. Is there some sinister side to the practice of architecture that suggests crime fiction as a creative outlet, or is there some other motivation that took you in this direction?
Tracee: I think of my books as mystery, not crime! My love of this genre is rooted firmly in early reading of Agatha Christie and other golden age writers. Also, I think that everyone is capable of killing someone (which is typically the crime at the heart of the story). A mother protecting her child? Of course she could kill. For me, writing a mystery is about the exploration of people’s lives and what takes them to that point of no return.
MB: Your main character is Agnes Lüthi, a Swiss-American police officer who lives and works in Switzerland. What kind of woman is Agnes Lüthi, and where did she come from?
Tracee: When I decided to set the series in Switzerland I wanted a character who was at home there, and at the same time who could highlight Swissness. Because of this, Agnes is born in Switzerland to American parents. That lets her compare the traditions she grew up with at home with the rest of society. Beyond that, Agnes is completely fictional. I started with a few basic premises – I wanted her to have family, but didn’t want to have to deal with a husband in the wings (I guess he is technically the book’s first victim). She has school age children, which in turn informed her age. The rest flowed from there as I was writing.
MB: Swiss Vendetta is set in Switzerland and it takes us inside the closed society of the Swiss aristocracy. Your setting and your characters have a very authentic look and feel to them. Where did your insights into this place and these people come from?
Tracee: My husband is Swiss (although not born there) and we lived between Lausanne and Zurich for several years. While my characters are all fictional, they are composites of people I met, or things I experienced. For example, the matriarch of the Vallotton family is inspired by my mother-in-law. She grew up in a very formal Swedish diplomatic family, spoke many languages fluently and carried about her an air of mystery as well as practicality. It was with her that I met the (now former) King of Spain, Juan Carlos I and his wife, Queen Sofia. Even for an American it was a thrill.
MB: Every element of your setting––the terrain, the weather, but most especially the Château Vallotton and the Arsov mansion next door, the two principal structures in which much of the action takes place––exerts a powerful influence over the actions of your protagonist, serving almost as antagonists in themselves. In light of this, would you like to reconsider your answer to Question 3, above? How did you arrive at using the setting as such an integral part of the story?
Tracee: This is where my background in architecture comes to the forefront! Not necessarily in terms of the description of the places, but in a belief that ‘places’ are important and that they impact daily life – how we behave, feel, and interact. Although it is a small country, Switzerland has a fantastic array of places to set a crime: from a château to a mountain ski resort, an isolated village to an international city. There are art galleries, monasteries, cheese factories, culinary schools…all places that inspire intrigue and, perhaps, murder.
MB: Is there anything you can tell us about the next set of circumstances under which we might meet Agnes Lüthi?
Tracee: Yes! Agnes will find herself occupied with a crime that links an idyllic boarding school with the watch industry. I visited Baselworld (the world’s premier watch and jewelry trade show) last year and was intrigued by the possibilities of such an international setting. In a sense, both Baselworld and the boarding school are closed communities. Wonderful places for tensions to build and bad things to happen.
MB: You’re about to go on a book tour to promote Swiss Vendetta. Where and when will readers be able to attend your tour events?
Tracee: I’m thrilled to be traveling to 14 cities across the country:
2/7 Lexington, KY Joseph Beth Booksellers
2/8 Cincinnati, OH Joseph Beth Booksellers
2/9 Evansville, IN Barnes & Noble
2/10 Madisonville, KY Readmore Books
2/11 Jonesboro, AR Barnes & Noble
2/12 Little Rock, AR Barnes & Noble
2/13 Paducah, KY Books-a-Million
2/15 Owensboro, KY Books-a-Million
2/16 Chattanooga, TN Star Line Books
2/17 Knoxville, TN Union Ave Books
2/18 Christiansburg, VA Barnes & Noble
2/19 Roanoke, VA Barnes & Noble
2/21 Houston, TX Murder by the Book
3/1 New York, NY Book Culture near Columbia
For more, on the world of Agnes Lüthi, please visit Tracee’s website, The Agnes Lüthi Mysteries. And, to get a peek inside the life of the crime fiction writer, you should spend some time reading the Miss Demeanors blog that Tracee writes, along with five other excellent mystery and thriller authors.
Swiss Vendetta is published by Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press. It becomes available on February 7, 2017, wherever books are sold.
Tracee de Hahn was interviewed for Murder Books by Roger Johns.