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Swiss Equality, Solidarity, and the Need to Serve

The Big Thrill Interviews Author Kim Hays

By Mindy Carlson

Book Cover: A FONDNESS FOR TRUTHA FONDNESS FOR TRUTH, the third in the Polizei Bern series by Kim Hays, is a classic police procedural with the flavors of Switzerland. Not the typical backdrop of mysteries, Kim brings us into Swiss society, whose rigid rules and traditions are running up against modern realities.

Giuliana Linder and Renzo Donatelli are partners in the Bern police department who are investigating a tragic hit-and-run and end up embroiled in a mystery that runs far deeper, touching on racism, homophobia, and systemic corruption. Only by confronting complicated family expectations and societal dynamics can they solve the murder of Andi Eberhart, the young mother and beloved partner run down on her bicycle while coming home from a curling match.

The Big Thrill was pleased to sit down with Kim Hays and discuss complex family relationships, the importance of sensitivity readers, and curling.

Author Photo: Kim Hays

Kim Hays

This is a police procedural set in Bern, Switzerland. What will readers find in common with procedurals set in America? And what are details of police work particular to Switzerland?

American readers will be familiar with the steps Giuliana Linder and Renzo Donatelli, my Swiss detectives, take to solve the crime in this book: examining the scene, calling in forensics, attending the autopsy, doing online research, and interviewing family, friends, and work colleagues while keeping them in mind as suspects. What’s different is how the Swiss police are trained and, at least in the canton of Bern, how informally they work with each other.

All Swiss police candidates receive two years of training, the first year in police school and the second interning in a police corps. In the US, the average training for police officers is 16 to 18 weeks. In Bern, cops are all on a first-name basis, with no use of “Sir” or military titles like Sergeant and Lieutenant. Detectives also work closely with public prosecutors from the start of a case.

Another difference is that the US homicide rate per 100,000 people is 14 times that of Switzerland. With its nine million people, the country averages fewer than 50 homicides per year, so each murder gets more attention.

Switzerland requires 245 days of military service or 368 days of civilian service for men. How does this period of service to one’s country impact the society as a whole? Why is this so foundational for Switzerland, and what it means to be Swiss?

I’ll start by explaining that, at 19, a Swiss man spends three days being assessed for military service. Until recently, if he was pronounced fit, he had to serve in the army; otherwise, he went to jail. However, for the past 20 years, young men have been allowed to spend time serving their country in other ways: on environmental projects or in museums, daycares, schools, hospitals, immigration centers, or homes for seniors. These “Civis,” as the men doing civilian service are called, have contributed enormously to Swiss society. For conservative Swiss, however, their alternative service remains controversial since it doesn’t teach them to defend their country.

This obsession with military training seems ridiculous in a country that declared itself neutral centuries ago. But within Switzerland, there is a conviction that Swiss neutrality can only be preserved through active defense, as it was during both World Wars, when Swiss men guarded the country’s borders. Army service is also a traditional symbol of the country’s equality since all classes of men serve together, and its solidarity since an effort is made to mix recruits from different cantons and even language groups.

A FONDNESS FOR TRUTH also features the struggles interracial and same-sex marriages face within our society. What measures did you take to ensure a truthful portrayal of those living with homophobia and racism?

The novel is about a young lesbian couple, Andi Eberhart and Nisha Pragasam, who are trying to balance the needs of their jobs, baby, and partnership while coping with pressure from their parents and brothers. When Andi is killed in a hit-and-run, Nisha decides her death isn’t an accident and goes to the police station, where she confides her worries to my detective, Giuliana Linder.

As with my other novels, I researched this one online and with in-person interviews. But because I wanted to be sure I didn’t write anything inadvertently foolish or insulting, I sent the manuscript to lesbian, gay, and Tamil readers, who warmly approved the story but found a few of my word choices potentially offensive—so I changed them. Now, I can only hope that my deep affection for my characters is matched by the authenticity of their experience.

Your two police detectives investigate different aspects of the victim’s life, yet both of them turn up complicated family dynamics made more complicated by murder. Why did you decide these two scenarios should mirror each other?

I’m fascinated and troubled by how hard it is for close family members—spouses, parents, siblings, and children—to see the unfairness in the way they treat each other or, if they do see it, to talk to each other about it. We lie to ourselves, and we lie—often unconsciously or with the best intentions—to those we love, and this causes an enormous amount of hurt and rage that can lead to violence. My two earlier books in the Polizei Bern series, Pesticide and Sons and Brothers, show misunderstanding, dishonesty, and even cruelty between family members, but, as you point out, the theme is particularly marked in A FONDNESS FOR TRUTH.

You’ve included the sport of curling in your novel. It’s a sport near and dear to my heart, but it’s not typically featured in novels. What drew you to make your victim a curler?

I’m glad you’re a fan of curling! What makes the sport especially appropriate for this book and for Andi Eberhart, who has a deep fondness for truth, is that it’s an honor sport. No referees check for fouls or forbidden behavior, like burning a stone (touching it with your foot or broom when it’s in play). Instead, curlers who break the rules are expected to confess.

A competitive sport in which the players call fouls on themselves while their opponents keep quiet about them is praiseworthy. And, as readers will see, so is my murder victim, a woman who tried to live her short life honestly and expected others to do the same.

What’s next?

The fourth book in the Polizei Bern series, featuring detectives Linder and Donatelli, should be out in 2025. Tentatively titled Step-by-Step, it begins in Bern’s magnificent Gothic cathedral with an attack on a restoration worker that Renzo Donatelli decides to investigate while Giuliana is wrapped up in a case of a woman killing her elderly husband.


The Big Thrill Interviews Author Kim Hays

Mindy Carlson
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