#Guestpost: RJ Bailey, author of #SafeFromHarm, on #Zurich @RJBaileyBooks @simonschusterUK

By | March 16, 2017

While Being Anne is picking up momentum again – and I read furiously so I can produce some reviews – I asked author friends who are members of Book Connectors if they’d like the opportunity of joining me with a guest post. I’ve had the most wonderful response (still room for more though…,!) and I have some glorious guest posts in the pipeline. Today, I’m joined by R J Bailey, the author of Safe From Harm, a very different and original looking thriller that’s gathering some great reviews, published by Simon & Schuster on 1st December 2016.

YOU CAN RUN

Sam Wylde is a Close Protection Officer to the rich and powerful. In a world dominated by men, being a woman has been an advantage. And she is the best in the business at what she does.

YOU CAN HIDE

She takes a job protecting the daughter of the Sharifs – Pakistani textile tycoons – but she realises that there is more to their organisation than meets the eye and suddenly she finds herself in danger.

BUT ONLY ONE PERSON WILL KEEP YOU SAFE FROM HARM

Now she is trapped underground, with no light, no signal and no escape. Dangerous men are coming to hurt her, and the young charge she is meant to be protecting. With time running out, can she channel everything she knows to keep them safe from harm…?

The sequel, Nobody Gets Hurt, is due next year, and features several scenes in Zurich. I’m delighted to welcome the author to tell us more about the city built by a bun… over to you RJ…

Near the beginning of our next novel one character asks: ‘What do you English think when you hear the name Zürich?’ Neat, privileged, smug, colonically-irrigated clean (at least physically if not morally), thinks Sam Wylde, the book’s protagonist. ‘The Gnomes of Zürich, no doubt,’ the character answers for himself. ‘An ordered city, with no litter. And lots of banks.’ He turned to face me. ‘But look at those train tracks. As wide as the Mississippi.’

Colonel d’Arcy, the speaker, is on 35th floor of the obsidian-like Prime Tower. From up there you can see one thing that Zurich has in abundance that nobody ever mentions – train tracks. Lots of them. Zurich is, of course, much better known for its pre-eminence in financial services than its rail network. Swiss banks – the majority of them headquartered in Zurich – currently manage around US$2.7 trillion in assets. What’s odd is that Zurich owes this banking hegemony to a breakfast bun.

​Now, wherever you have rail tracks, you have the right side and the wrong side of them. The Prime Tower (at 126m, 413ft the tallest building in the country) is on what was once the wrong side – in District 5 – and the vista beneath it demonstrates that, far from always making its fortune from numbered bank accounts and art of dubious provenance, the Swiss city was once a hub of industry. Below the tower are the former sites of turbine manufacturers, ship builders, soap producers, brewers and yoghurt makers. It was the coming of the Spanisch-Brötli-Bahn, the first railway on Swiss territory, which connected Zürich with Baden in 1847, that made the city a commercial powerhouse.

A Spanisch-Brötli, or Spanish Bun, is a type of pastry traditionally made in Baden but prized in Zurich. The wealthy lake-dwellers liked these pastries so much that servants would be sent out very early in the morning to fetch them from Baden, 25 kilometers away, by foot. The would-be train operators boasted that, if the tracks were laid, buns could be delivered to Zurich in 45 minutes. Investors flocked, making it probably the first and only rail investment driven by pastry. With the railway came the banks. By WW1, 50% of all Swiss deposits were in a handful of banks in Zurich.

The growth in banking was paralleled by a rapid expansion in retail. Before the railway there was a muddy pathway in downtown Zurich that was known as Fröschengraben (Ditch Of The Frogs). With the arrival of the trains, like an amphibian kissed and turned into a Prince, this morphed into the elegant, tree-lined, tram-frequented Bahnhofstrasse (Station Street), which has become one of the most glamorous and expensive streets in the world. It was James Joyce, who loved the city almost as much as he did Dublin – he is buried here- who helped perpetuate the legend of Zurich’s cleanliness, saying the pavements of Bahnhofstrasse were so clean ‘that one could drink minestrone soup off them.’

​If you want something a little grittier than soup, take a walk down Langstrasse (Long Street) which pierces the heart of Districts 4 and 5. The section in 4 –the old Red Light district – contains a dwindling number of strip clubs, hookers and bars such as Ole Ole, at the junction of Langstrasse and Lagerstrasse. Here a lady of a very certain age will play AC-DC and Saxon at ear-bleeding volume and a battery of dozens of old-fashioned alarm clocks hung around the bar will explode into action at midnight signaling.. well, we weren’t quite sure what. It certainly wasn’t last orders (which are around 4am).

Langstrasse carries on in its rough and ready way (although the smart boutiques and bars are multiplying monthly) through to the splendid retail centre at Im Viadukt at the end of Geroldstrasse, which acts as a border between Districts 4 and District 5 (the former industrial district). The 1,640-foot long span of railway arches has been filled with clothes and food shops, restaurants, cafes and a thriving food hall (which has excellent oysters). Once finished with the arches, zig-zag towards Hardbrucke Station and you’ll find the excellent Lowenbrau arts centre, the bars/clubs of Geroldstrasse and the Schiffbau complex. The latter is a vast hall that once produced paddle steamers for the world, from the Swiss Lakes (two venerable examples still plough Lake Zurich) to the Amazon Basin, which has now been re-purposed – it houses a theatre, a rooftop bar and a jazz club.

You can’t miss Prime Tower and it is worth a look. With its swanky restaurant and bar up top and its shiny cafes at street level, the tower is the smarter, more corporate side of 4/5. I wouldn’t drink soup off the pavement just yet, but it is quickly evolving into that sort of place. Meanwhile, you’ll find us grunting along to Highway to Hell at the Ole Ole, with not a drop of minestrone in sight.

Fascinating – thank you RJ!

RJ Bailey is the pseudonym of a married writing duo. Their novel Safe From Harm is their first collaborative effort. To find out more, do take a look at their website: you can also follow them on Twitter.

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