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US writer sets thriller in Zurich - then moves there

Sophie Inge · 27 Jun 2013, 11:05

Published: 27 Jun 2013 11:05 GMT+02:00

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Why did you decide to base your book in Switzerland?

It was really quite ironic because before I started writing The Zurich Decision, I’d never been to Switzerland. The reason I chose it as the prime location for the novel was because of its links to the pharmaceutical industry.

At the time, I was actually working for a large, global pharmaceutical company. I was looking for a good antagonist and quickly realized that I could capitalize on the mistrust that people seemed to have for Big Pharma by putting it at the centre of the story. 

What’s the novel about?

The story centres on Chief Financial Officer Stephen Kastner, an honest man who helps run one of Europe’s most important pharmaceutical companies in Zurich. But when his CEO decides to finance research on a new medicinal molecule, apparently to benefit humanity, Stephen makes a dishonest business decision.

There are many interesting characters in the novel, including a Russian assassin. However, overall, it’s really an international thriller with a lot of action and significant plot twists. Nonetheless, I don’t want to give too much away.

How did you end up moving to Switzerland?

I have lived in Europe before and I speak French, Spanish and Italian. I just love the history, architecture, and the people of this continent.

Originally, my wife and I had thought about moving to Spain, but then she got the opportunity to work for a technology company here in Zurich. Also, I wanted to change careers and move into academia – so we seized the opportunity and moved here last February with our two children.

My wife jokes that I have to be careful where I set my books in future!

What do you think of the country so far?

What I find amazing about Switzerland is not just the mixture of cultures in one tiny country but the geographic variants — for example, between the Italian and French areas.

Was it difficult to integrate?

My biggest concern was the adjustment for the kids, as they’ve never lived abroad before – apart from a few holidays to Europe, as well as to South America where my wife is from. I wanted to make sure that they had as much fun as possible in the first month, so I took them out sledding a lot.

For me personally, the transition has been very easy because I love the culture here. Within a couple of hours or so, you can be in France or Italy — everything is just so close. And the Alps are spectacular.

Since arriving, I’ve been learning German, which has been quite a challenge. Even though I still make a few mistakes, I can communicate now.

Did you notice any difference between your description of Zurich in the novel and the reality?

When I was writing the book, I tried to do a lot of research. Overall, my idea of the city was pretty close to how it really is.

I did, however, make one mistake in my first draft. I knew that Switzerland had three main languages — four if you count Romansh — but originally I had the Zurich police speaking in French. After doing more research, I realized my mistake.

What was it like working in pharmaceuticals?

Story continues below…

Overall, I’ve had a positive experience and worked with a lot of great people. But what I did find was that when you mention the drug industry, people generally have an inherent animosity and distrust.

This is because of the fact that there have been well-publicized scandals in the industry and also because drugs can be costly, making it an easy target. However, the industry has a value for society because it produces products that can help people live better lives. 

Is any of the book based on real-life experience?

Not at all. Only the locations are real. Having said that, my knowledge of the industry — such as how drug launches happen and so on — certainly helped.

Any plans for more novels?

I first started writing just for fun. It wasn’t until I’d finished The Zurich Decision, and had positive reactions, that I pursued the idea of publication. I’ve now written about 120 pages of another international thriller — on an unrelated topic — but it won’t be finished for a while as I’m studying for a Doctorate in Business.

Zurich Decision was published in March 2013 by Bucks County Publishing. You can find out more on Joseph Brady's website.

Sophie Inge (sophie.inge@thelocal.com)

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