In A Well-Timed Murder, the second book in the Agnes Lüthi mystery series, Tracee de Hahn explores the passions that lie beneath the Swiss watch-making industry. Greed, betrayal, and espionage abound, but would someone actually commit murder for a new watch design?
As the novel opens, investigator Agnes Lüthi—a police investigator in Lausanne, Switzerland—is recovering from wounds inflicted during her first case in the Violent Crimes division. Though she’s still on leave, she attends Baselworld, the Swiss watch conference, because her former department, Financial Crimes, has cornered a major international thief.
While there, Agnes gets a request for help from Julien Vallotton, whom she met during the investigation of her first murder case. A friend of his has recently died, and the man’s daughter doesn’t believe the official cause of death: accidental allergic reaction. In the weeks before his “accident,” Guy Chavanon had bragged about a discovery that would revolutionize the watch industry. The timing is suspicious, but Agnes is reluctant to get involved. She is still on medical leave. The grieving daughter provides no actual proof. And Agnes’s last case stirred feelings about Julien Vallotton that she, a new widow, is not quite ready to face.
She agrees to investigate anyway. The watch-making industry is small and insular, but no one admits to knowing about Chavanon’s discovery. And when Agnes visits the elite boarding school where Chavanon died, she discovers that a student at the school also has a severe nut allergy. He’s the child of a dictator with enemies willing to take their hatred out on an innocent boy. Perhaps Chavanon’s death was indeed an accident—perhaps the real target was the boy.
A Well-Timed Murder is an entertaining mystery that will keep readers guessing until the end. But the plot is only one of the joys of this novel. It is likely that most readers will not have given the Swiss watch industry much thought, but de Hahn uses her fascinating setting to reveal as much about her characters as about the industry itself. There’s a legendary watch maker, for example, who can take up to a year to make one watch, and Agnes is horrified to discover that Julien Vallotton is wearing this expensive piece in public. He, in turn, is equally dismayed to find that she is a serial loser of watches, though much less expensive ones.
Agnes is an engaging character, a loving mother who is also serious about and dedicated to her work. Even recovering from work-related injuries, she doesn’t pretend that she’s not happy to be back on a case. Her observations about the people around her are both astute and often funny. She sums up one handsome suspect as someone “who always looked as if he were heading to or from a tryst” and “a lifetime of despair dressed in a fine suit.”
She views the dictator’s son with both sympathy and realism: “Maybe a remote Swiss boarding school was the answer for Koulsy. Perhaps it demonstrated that someone in his life was capable of authentic love, and that love kept him isolated from the world. He could make the swim team, travel to the Olympics, and, if handled correctly, never see the media storm. If someone on the team didn’t kill him, she added to herself, suddenly reminded that his father was truly a terrible man and many people wanted him dead.”
Readers need not have read Swiss Vendetta, the first novel in the series, to enjoy this one, but they may want to. Once they meet Agnes Lüthi, they will want to spend as much time as possible in her company.
Faye Jones, dean of learning resources at Nashville State Community College, writes the Jolly Librarian blog for the college’s Mayfield Library. She earned her doctorate in nineteenth-century literature at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.