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Book Author: Tracee de Hahn

SWISS VENDETTA by Tracee de Hahn: Book Review

There’s not much in the way of crime fiction coming from Switzerland compared to other European countries.  So Tracee de Hahn’s debut novel, Swiss Vendetta, is definitely a welcome addition to the international mystery genre.

Agnes Lüthi has just been transferred to the Violent Crimes division of the Lausanne Police Department from its Financial division.  She’s pleased yet anxious about her new position, and she’s still mourning the recent death of her husband.  On her first day at her new job, the worst blizzard in the city’s history is covering Lausanne and its environs with freezing temperatures, biting winds, and whiteout conditions.  But crime doesn’t respect the weather, and Agnes is called to investigate a murder.  It’s her first homicide case, and the conditions could not be worse.

The murder has taken place at the Chateau Vallatton, home to the region’s wealthiest and most prominent family.  The victim, a visitor named Felicity Cowell, was an appraiser for a London auction house, and she was in the process of valuing the hundreds of valuable items that the Vallatton family had amassed over the centuries.  But something made Felicity leave the mansion that morning, bizarrely dressed in an evening gown and a man’s coat, and go out into the blizzard.  What was it?

At first glance it’s hard to tell what happened to Felicity, given that her body is stuck to the ice.  But when she is finally moved, a knife wound is revealed; now there’s no doubt it was murder.

The small investigative presence at the murder site is not what should have been.  The chief of the station, Inspector Bardy, is stranded elsewhere because of the storm.  André Petit is the village policeman without much homicide experience, preoccupied because his wife is going into labor with their first child.  The other three men on the scene simply happened to be at the local hotel bar when the call came in reporting the murder, and so they went to the chateau to provide at least a semblance of officialdom:  Robert Carnet, Agnes’s former supervisor in Financial Crimes; Dr. Blanchard, a local physician; and Frédéric Estanguest, an elderly villager who leads the two others up the mountain under the terrible weather conditions.

Not one of these men, nor Agnes, is experienced in investigating a murder.  But they’ll have to do their best.

Matters aren’t helped by the people in the chateau.  The only permanent resident is the marquise, Antoinette Vallatton de Torney, who barely acknowledges knowing the deceased.  Her late brother’s two sons do not live in the mansion but both, along with the wife of the younger brother, are there at the moment.  Neither brother seems to have a reason for the murder, and the younger one is in a wheelchair, making it virtually impossible for him to have gone out in the snow and killed Felicity Cowell.

The blizzard is one more obstruction for Agnes Lüthi.  She is freezing cold, both physically and mentally, throughout the novel–first, obviously, by the raging storm; second, by her internal despair over her husband’s unexpected and unexplained suicide.  How can she ever hope to solve this case, she wonders, when she has been unable to decipher any clues about why her husband, to whom she was closer than anyone else in the world, willingly left her and their two young sons?

Tracee de Hahn has written a compelling first novel, with, I hope, many more to follow.  You can read more about her at this web site.

Read the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.