Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dorothy James - A Place to Die - Guest Post

My thanks to Dorothy James for stopping by City Girl Who Loves to Read for a guest post during the blog tour for her book, A Place to Die.

Guest Post

Setting My Mystery Novel

It is not by chance that my mystery novel is called A Place to Die. Place is very important to me. Plot, characters, setting—all ingredients of a novel, and if you equate “setting” with “background,” you might regard it as being of secondary importance: You tell a story, you create characters and you set them against a certain background. But in my novel and in my thinking, the place is important. It is not just background, it is a fundamental part of the novel’s theme.

Here we have a very specific setting: A retirement home in Vienna. This does not of course dictate the story, the plot, but it determines quite a lot about the characters. I started with the idea of putting a murder mystery in a retirement home because, influenced by the traditional country-house murder mystery, I thought, what better place for such a mystery than a retirement home where you can readily establish a group of characters, close the door on them, as it were, and have a detective gradually track down which of them “did it.” And then, because I was living in Vienna at the time, and knew the city and its history very well. It was the natural place for me to draw a set of characters and use their own past histories in the plot.

The setting is foreign to the American reader, and one might think it difficult to create the impression that all the characters are speaking German when one is writing in English. Of course, I did not want to write some sort of phony German-English, as in a comic show. I did not find it difficult however to observe the standard politenesses of the German language, and a certain formality of language in characters of a certain age. I think there is a difference in the book between the language in which the American visitors to the residence think and talk among themselves, and the language in which the older members of the residence address each other. I did not struggle mightily with this. I felt firmly rooted in the atmosphere of the House in the Vienna Woods, and the language flowed naturally out of that.

Certain aspects of the setting of the retirement home itself are to some extent culture-specific, for example, the café where residents and visitors take coffee and cake and even schnapps in the afternoon, but the basic situation of older people coming to terms with institutional living and with aging itself—this certainly crosses national boundaries. I did not try to make this setting and this situation palatable to the reader—I set out to convey it as it is, with its comic sides as well its heartaches.

Place in this novel is paramount. The plot, the characters, the ideas—they belong in this place.

About the Book
A Place to Die

Book Details:
Price: $34.99 hardcover, $23.99 paperback, $3.03-$9.99 ebook
Format: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Published: April 2010
Pages: 436
ISBN: 9781450082709, 9781450082693
Genre: Murder Mystery
Buy Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble,
Kindle, Nook, iBookstore

Eleanor and Franz Fabian arrive from New York to spend Christmas with Franzs mother in her sedate retirement home in the Vienna Woods. Their expectations are low: at best, boredom, at worst, run-of-the-mill family friction. But when the wealthy, charming Herr Graf is found dead in his apartment with an ugly head wound, the Fabians are thrust into a homicide investigation.

Some residents and staff have surprising connections to the dead man, but who would have wanted to kill him? Inspector Buchner tracks down the murderer against a backdrop of Viennese history from the Nazi years to the present day. Witty, suspenseful, lyrical, this is a literary whodunit that will keep you guessing till the last page.

About the Author
Dorothy James

Dorothy James was born in Wales and grew up in the South Wales Valleys. Writer, editor, and translator, she has published short stories as well as books and articles on German and Austrian literature. She has taught at universities in the U.S., England, and Germany, makes her home now in Brooklyn and often spends time in Vienna and Berlin.

She wrote A Place to Die in her attic apartment on the edge of the Vienna Woods. She has traveled far from Wales, but has not lost the Welsh love of playing with language; she writes poems for pleasure as does Chief Inspector Büchner, the whimsical Viennese detective who unravels the first mystery in this new series of novels.

Connect with Dorothy:
Web Site

About the Tour

Tribute Books Blog Tours

A Place to Die Blog Tour Site

Tour Participants:

February 6 (guest post)
Proud Book Nerd

February 6 (guest post)
Bibliophilic Book Blog

February 6 (author interview)
You Gotta Read

February 7 (guest post)
vvb32 reads

February 8 (guest post or author interview)
The Character Connection

February 8 (author interview)
I Am a Reader, Not a Writer

February 9 (review)
Kritters Ramblings

February 10 (review)
A Lovely Shore Breeze

February 10 (guest post or author interview)
The Plot Thickens

February 13 (guest post)
Book Dilettante

February 13 (review)
Books and Needlepoint

February 13 (review)
Tic Toc

February 14 (review)
Reviews by Molly

February 15 (guest post or author interview)
City Girl Who Loves to Read

February 15 (review)
The Book Connection

February 16 (review)
Book Dragon's Lair

February 16 (guest post)

February 17 (review)
Simple Wyrdings

February 18 (review)
Lesa's Book Critiques

February 21 (review)
Words by Webb

February 22 (guest post)
Mama Knows Books

February 23 (guest post)
Fighter Writer

February 24 (review)
Minding Spot


  1. Thanks very much to City Girl for hosting this stop on the tour. The question you pose on the formation of setting in a novel is very interesting to me and I enjoyed trying to answer it. I will enjoy looking at other posts on your blog

  2. Thanks Victoria for hosting Dorothy today. What a great point. When "place" is a part of the title, setting must be important to the author :)

  3. Dorothy, I really enjoyed your post. Thanks for putting so much thought and effort into it.

    You're welcome, Nicole.