Death in Switzerland? Three crime writers talk about why Switzerland makes the perfect setting for a psychological suspense thriller.
Images courtesy the authors.
When you think of books set in Switzerland, you might think of chocolate box wildflower-strewn meadows sloping down through pine forests to crystal lakes with icing-sugar covered mountains in the background. Spyri’s Heidi, perhaps, or Melinda Huber’s Lake in Switzerland series.
But the Alps hold much drama. The weather can turn at any moment. The peaks can become shrouded in thick disorientating fog, rivers can flash flood down steep dark gullies and the lakes can whip up white horses within seconds of a storm wind, whatever the season. Geographical restrictions have made the rest of the world wonder about the mysteriously reserved personalities of the Swiss people.
There are plenty of places to inspire suspense novels in Switzerland, and here are two of mine, the origins of which sowed the seeds of two tales of suspense.
In the opening scene of Strangers on a Bridge, Alice encounters a man on the edge of a suicide bridge. After she talks him down, he becomes obsessed with Alice and begins to stalk her. A twisty psychological thriller follows.
The Lorzentöbelbrücke are three bridges in the canton of Zug, each spanning the Lorze Gorge at different altitudes. The latter two bridges are sadly notorious suicide hotspots where many people have taken their lives. The publisher, Harper Collins HQ, used one of my photos and incorporated it onto the cover of the novel.
My second novel, The Art of Deception, is written with a dual timeline. Lucie is in prison for a crime she insists she did not commit. Her life in prison alternates with the backstory leading to her conviction.
Hindelbank Prison is Switzerland’s only all-female prison situated in a village of the same name just north of Bern. I based Lucie’s incarceration on the real prison, describing the castle and the grounds exactly as they are, and visited several times to get a feel for the setting. The backstory is set in a ski resort, and although the village itself is not named in the narrative, it is based on Leysin in the Pre-Alpine region of southwest Switzerland, seen here with the iconic Tour d’Aï and Tour de Mayen as a backdrop. Leysin also happens to be the village where I spent the first sixteen years of my time in Switzerland and is my “lieu d’origine” or place of origin where I became a naturalised Swiss citizen.
Louise writes novels, short stories and flash fiction, which have won prizes, placed on shortlists, and have been read out on BBC radio. You can connect with Louise on Facebook,Twitter, or visit her website www.louisemangos.com, where there are links to some of her short fiction. Louise lives in the canton of Zug with her Kiwi husband and two sons.
I have an alter ego. Her name is Melinda Huber and she’s much nicer than me.
The main love of my writing life is my psychological suspense novels, the first of which was published in 2013 under my real name, Linda Huber. The Paradise Trees is set in Yorkshire, and was followed by seven others, all – with one partial exception – with locations in the UK. Glasgow, my home town, is an easy place to set a dark book. Cornwall, where the beauty of land and sea contrasts so chillingly with the themes in the novels.
The exception is Death Wish, my seventh book, with its long sub-plot about a woman with advanced Huntington’s Disease. She is seeking assisted suicide, not possible in the UK. The characters come to Switzerland to investigate, and the decision looming over Grandma Vee and her family means their experience of our country is at variance with its beauty. I fictionalised my ‘clinic’, but it’s still a sensitive topic. Martine, Vee’s daughter, sits on the banks of a lake (I was visualising Lake Constance while writing), water lapping over her feet, the breeze blowing across from Germany in her hair, the Alpstein range stark against the sky behind her – and she’s contemplating euthanasia. Where else in the world can you do that?
As well as the more obvious ‘life or death’ dilemma, there’s a ‘right and wrong’ question here. Why is assisted suicide legal in Switzerland but not in the UK? Would we come here, faced with an illness like Vee’s? I hope I succeeded in making the family’s predicament realistic for readers everywhere.
And Melinda? She’s written five feel-good novellas, all set in sunny Switzerland, and not a murderer or a blackmailer in sight. A Lake in Switzerland et al contain the best parts of my many years living in the top right-hand corner of our lovely country. Sometimes you need to emphasise the positives …
Linda Huber grew up in Scotland, but came to work in Switzerland for a year aged twenty-two, and has lived here ever since. Her day jobs have included working as a children’s physiotherapist and teaching English in a medieval castle. Currently she teaches one day a week, and writes psychological suspense novels and feel-good novellas with (most of) the rest of her time.
The setting of my two books is very important to me. In both of them, every location is one I’ve visited and loved: mountains, beaches, my grandmother’s house, my friends’ flats. I may tweak them to fit in with the story or transport them to another place but I try to remain true to the atmosphere that makes them special.
My second novel, A Fractured Winter, is mainly set in Switzerland. It tells the story of a young Scottish mother whose idyllic life in a village near Zug begins to fall apart when people and secrets from her past begin to catch up with her. I chose Zug because it’s a place where international businessmen or aging rock stars can live close to villages with a traditional Swiss life-style: children walking home from school for lunch, shopping in the Spar and with Fasnacht balls organised by the Turnverein.
Near my imaginary village, there is also a creepy abandoned building called The Grand Wildenbach Hotel, which is taken over by a New Age sect. It is one of those impressive hotels established when tourism first arrived in Switzerland with the advent of the Grand Tours of Europe and is based on a real one – one of my favourite places in Switzerland.
I’ve moved it, and the scenery around it, from the Berner Oberland, but the architecture, the history, the visitors, including Byron, Tolstoy, Nietzsche, Alexandre Dumas and Conan Doyle are all authentic. It’s now a quirky hotel, retaining all its original features and atmosphere (and no television, internet or dodgy cults) and is so wonderful I’m keeping the name and exact location a secret!
Alison Baillie is originally from Scotland but has lived in Switzerland for many years. She’s written two books: Sewing the Shadows Together and A Fractured Winter. She can be contacted on her website: alisonbaillie.com on Facebook or Twitter.