A Place to Die and the Nazi Regime: Guest Post by Dorothy James

A Place to Die Book Summary: 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 B
üchner 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.

We here at The Bibliophilic Book Blog are happy to host a guest post from Ms. Dorothy James today!

A Place to Die and the Nazi Regime

A Place to Die
is a murder mystery set in present-day Vienna. It takes place in a retirement home in the Vienna Woods. This retirement home is pure invention on my part—there is no such House in the Woods in reality. But the people in it are firmly rooted in what I see as the reality of times.

I did not research the Nazi period especially for this novel. In my own childhood in Wales, I experienced war-torn Britain and Hitler’s bombs. But later I studied and taught German and Austrian literature, lived in both countries and came to know them very well.  It was when I was living in Vienna that I set out to write a murder mystery, and it was natural to place it in that fascinating city.  I did not explicitly intend to explore the Nazi past, but, given the age of the characters, there was no way to escape it.

All the residents of my imaginary retirement home are well over the age of sixty and some are in their nineties. Not one of them was born later than the 1930’s. They all therefore saw the light of day before the fateful summer of 1939 when Hitler’s armies marched into Poland and set off the Second World War.  People forget that Hitler was himself an Austrian, and that under him the German and Austrian armies were completely integrated.  The residents of the retirement home are all Austrians, and inevitably there are echoes of that period in their lives, their memories and sometimes their deaths.

Like many older generation Austrians, my residents do not like to talk about the Nazi past.  There are some comic moments in the novel where the uninitiated American guests, a younger generation, start to do just this, to the discomfort of their hosts.  It has taken many decades for Austrians to face up to their role in the horrors of the Nazi period, but the younger generations of scholars have, to their credit, done so, and are now firmly debunking  the convenient myth that the Austrians were the first victims of Hitler and not in large part his willing allies.

This is a complicated issue, and there are echoes of it, not in-depth discussions, in the novel. For example, the question arises of restitution to Jewish families whose property and art works were “aryanized,” i.e. stolen by the Nazis, often their own neighbors; one character is the widow of a protestant pastor who was executed by the Austrian Nazis for his “treachery,” i.e., his resistance during the war; the complex role of the Protestant churches in this period comes up...and so on.

The Nazi regime is by no means the major theme of this novel, but it lurks in the background. That terrible decade in Austria goes on playing its way out, consciously and subconsciously, in the lives of the people who came through it.

Dorothy James Bio:

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 travelled 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.


  1. Star, thanks again for hosting Dorothy today for a guest post. I think we forget that the Nazi brutality lived on in the minds of those who experienced it even long after the war was over - especially in such a unique setting like a retirement home.

  2. Thanks to the Bibliophilic Book Review for your good question about my research into the Nazi regime that prompted this guest post. Very glad to see my novel in your pages.


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