Tracee de Hahn is the author of the Agnes Lüthi Mysteries series, which includes Swiss Vendetta and the recent A Well-Timed Murder. After completing degrees in architecture and European history at the University of Kentucky, she moved to Europe and spent several years in Switzerland. Now, she lives in Virginia with her husband, a Swiss architect, and their Jack Russell Terriers.
Recently, the author made time to answer some of our questions about writing a series set in Switzerland, her protagonist Agnes Lüthi, Swiss watchmaking, and more!
How much research and preparation went into learning about Swiss watchmaking?
A great deal, although much of the detail didn’t make its way onto the written page—after all, no one is trying to learn how to make a watch by reading my book! Certainly, the research triggered central ideas. Then, more research clarified the path for development. I spent time at Baselworld (the world’s premier watch and jewelry show) and with watchmakers, and those experiences were invaluable.
What made you decide to pick Switzerland as the setting for the Agnes Lüthi series?
My husband was living in Vienna when he left for boarding school in Switzerland. He was about nine years old then, and his parents eventually moved there. We met in the United States and eventually returned to Lausanne for a few years.
When I started to write a mystery, Switzerland sprang to mind. Partly because it is a country both well-known and mysterious. Also, it is geographically small but diverse in specific ways. There are four official languages, multiple recognized religions, and vast differences between cosmopolitan cities and tiny villages. Instantly, I thought of places and the kinds of crimes that might happen over the course of a series: Baselworld and a crime associated with watchmaking; mountains and ski or hiking “accidents”; international intrigue with Zurich and Geneva; village scandals associated with cheese making. The perfect setting for a mystery series.
If you could team up Agnes Lüthi with any other detective, real or fictional, who would you choose and why?
I would love to have her join Alec Hardy in Broadchurch for a cross-border crime. They both struggle with their past personal relationships and with their commitment to their children, and they are both anchored by their work. Alec has recent experience with his colleague’s personal brush with murder and loss (I won’t give the storyline away here), and there are connections through this with Agnes’s loss. Plus, he is both humane and cynical; I’d like to see Agnes’s reaction to his cynicism.
Describe A Well-Timed Murder in less than five words.
Timing is everything. Maybe I’ll start hashtagging that!
Where do you get your inspiration for Agnes Lüthi?
The initial inspiration was the time I spent in Switzerland. Not that I had a role in law enforcement (or saw a crime worse than a bicycle without a license plate), but I could understand being born in a country yet not being quite of their customs (Agnes’s parents are American). Agnes fits in among her peers, however, there is a nagging suspicion in her mind that she doesn’t quite belong. It’s unclear to her whether that is because she grew up in a household that held to other customs or if it is simply who she is.
What is your favorite line from A Well-Timed Murder and why?
One of my favorites is: “There was that arrow in the wall.” Agnes is trying to isolate concerns surrounding recent events at a boarding school, and this line—as if an arrow shot into a wall is a casual occurrence—strikes me as emblematic of the problems she faces and the trouble people take to conceal everything about their lives. I’m also partial to this line: “Giberti looked like a lifetime of despair dressed in a fine suit.” Good looks can be a burden as well as a benefit; I’ll leave it to the reader to decide about Giberti.
What do you want your readers to think or feel after finishing this book?
I hope they think, “What’s next for Agnes?” Isn’t that what every writer wants? More specifically, I would like them to think about the nature of secrets and what we keep from our loved ones. Family binds people together even as it creates divides—and not only divides caused by conflict but sometimes divides created by love or desire.
So what's next for Agnes Lüthi?
A trip to Paris and a step into her father’s world: elite chefs and Michelin-starred restaurants!
What are you currently reading?
What are you currently binging on Netflix?
Any documentary in a foreign language. That would be my answer if I thought my husband wouldn’t call foul. (He speaks four languages fluently to my adequate French and forgotten Russian, so it is a possibility for him.) Truth be told, the latest seasons of The Crown and Broadchurch. Occasionally, I wander back to Sherlock and Breaking Bad like breaking open a favorite book.
What is your murder weapon of choice?
I’ve had a long-standing fascination with “natural” poisons like botulism and certain mushrooms. But that hasn’t specifically played a role in choosing my weapons when writing—those decisions come from the circumstances, characters, and setting. What is logical for a murder in Switzerland? That’s at the forefront of my mind.
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Tracee de Hahn completed degrees in architecture and European history at the University of Kentucky and then lived in Europe, including several years in Switzerland. She currently lives in Virginia with her husband, a Swiss architect, and their Jack Russell Terriers. This is her second novel, following Swiss Vendetta.