Mysterious disappearances, betrayals, loyalty. Crooks, cops, an enigmatic archaeologist, helpful strangers. All these come together against a backdrop of beautiful Bulgarian vistas, crowded cities and down-to-earth rural villages. Then for good measure we have a Peace Corps Volunteer in the mix, in Valley of Thracians by Ellis Shuman.
Imagine my delight in finding this Bulgaria story, with so many aspects of that wonderful country that I had admired and described in my own book. Added to all that rich description and cultural narrative, giving it heart and nerve, is a top-rate mystery plot!
Ellis’ book can be described as a “travel fiction” since the story hinges as much on the setting as on the main characters. Both are developed expertly and the interplay is seamless as the story unfolds. As we follow the twists and turns of the plot we are treated to fascinating lessons in Bulgarian culture, geography, customs and folkways, mores and ways of thinking. The writer’s observations and revelations about the country are always relevant to the action, as well as being informative and fascinating.
The story itself is a thriller with all the classic elements of the genre. We have a missing person presumed dead; clues that don’t fit the official reports; a doting grandpa pushing against all odds to find his beloved grandson; contradictions, suspicions, surprises and reversals. We have bad guys and good guys swirling around a mysterious lost treasure, hide-and-seek chases all over the country, crowded festivals and lonely mountaintops, drugs and guns. There are enough plot twists to engage the diehard mystery reader, and enough human interest angles to warm anyone’s heart.
If it seems clear from the author’s detailed and colorful Bulgaria knowledge that he has “been there,” there’s good reason for that authenticity. His real-life Bulgarian story is told in his Bulgarian Adventure blog, written while he lived and worked in Sofia. For anyone who loves Bulgaria, and even more for anyone who has never thought about Bulgaria, Valley of Thracians is a delightful read.