By Maggie James
For the last thirty years, I've been a travelholic, indulging my passion for globetrotting as often as possible. Recently, I've read some novels set in unusual locations, which inspired this latest post in the 'Five' series. I'm going to examine five novels all set in places that don't often feature in English-language fiction, none of which I've yet been to. All of them are on my radar, however, for future trips!
So sit back, relax, and let's go globetrotting to some wonderful locations, brought to us in fictional form. We'll travel to Mauritius, Bulgaria, St Vincent, Mongolia and Antartica. I'll describe a little about each place, and then talk about a novel that's set there. Maybe this will whet your appetite to read the book, travel to the location, or both!
1. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is an island country, part of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. It consists of the main island of Saint Vincent and the northern two-thirds of the Grenadines, a chain of smaller islands stretching south from Saint Vincent. The capital and main port is Kingston. Whilst the official language is English, most Vincentians speak Creole, particularly at home and among friends.
Saint Vincent is volcanic, and there is little level ground, with the windward side being very rocky and steep. Banana cultivation dominates the economy, although tourism also plays an important part. The latter was boosted by the filing of the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movies on the island. Look at the photo - isn't that beautiful?
'Deadlight' by Michael Smart
Novelist Michael Smart, who I interviewed for this blog, sets his Bequia mysteries in the Eastern Caribbean, where he spent eight years living and enjoying the sailing. His latest release, Deadlight, has now been published and features Saint Vincent. Here's the synopsis:
Commissioner of Police Mike Daniels copes with the political fallout resulting from the scandals uncovered by Superintendent Jolene Johanssen, whilst he investigates the murder of an undercover constable, and completes the task of cleaning up the police force before a new Prime Minister replaces him as Commissioner of Police. Corrupt cops and politicians, and two murders, lead Commissioner Daniels. Superintendent Johanssen and Nicholas Gage to the man behind the conspiracy, and a climactic showdown to save St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Discover more about Michael Smart and the Bequia Mysteries via his website.
Mauritius is situated in the Indian Ocean, about 1,200 miles off the coast of Africa. It is an island nation, the capital being Port Louis. The climate is tropical, the terrain mountainous and well-forested in parts. The island is of volcanic origin, and thanks to its isolation, is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, including some of the world's rarest plants and animals.
The economy is based on tourism and sugar cultivation, with Mauritius being one of the world's top luxury tourist destinations. It possesses a wide range of natural and man-made attractions, as well as its clear sea waters and attractive beaches, Did I mention sugar cultivation? That leads me on nicely to our featured novel based in Mauritius. Drum roll, please...
'Sugar Cane' by E. E. Fry
A while ago I interviewed the author of 'Sugar Cane', E.E. Fry, for this blog. Here's the link. Half Mauritian herself, E.E. Fry has a passion for writing about the island. Here's the synopsis for 'Sugar Cane':
Beth Stephens' seemingly normal life is turned upside down when her father, George Labelle, passes away and she finds herself travelling to Mauritius to spread his ashes. Set between England and Mauritius during the sixties to the present day, Sugar Cane follows both of their stories, juxtaposing between Beth in life and George from beyond the grave, father and daughter discovering more than they bargained for, especially wherever the beautiful Sahana is concerned....
Sugar Cane has been described as a thriller, a murder mystery, a love story and a travelogue. It challenges the issues of mixed race heritage and identity, providing real characters with real perceptions about how they fit into a world that needs to differentiate one human being from another. Sugar Cane takes you on a journey to a faraway place, where, along with the effects of slavery, Empire and indentured labour, a microcosm has been created over the centuries; the perfect canvas to illustrate what it really means to be free to know who we really are. Welcome to Mauritius.
You can find out more about E. E. Fry (as well as her gorgeous dog Sandy) via her blog, Sandy Bred Publishing.
Bulgaria is a country in south-eastern Europe, the capital being Sofia. Its geography boasts a mixture of mountains and plains, with the Balkans running through the middle of the country.
In recent years, Bulgaria has emerged as a tourist destination, offering inexpensive resorts and good beaches. The capital Sofia, the medieval capital Veliko Tarnovo, the coastal resorts of Golden Sands and Sunny Beach, and winter resorts such as Bansko are perenially popular with visitors.
Traditional Bulgarian culture is derived from Thracian, Salvic and Bulgar roots. Many sites are of immense historical importance and are on UNESCO's World Heritage list, such as the Thracian tombs in Sveshtari. Another neat segway, leading me to the novel I'm featuring that's based in Bulgaria:
'Valley of Thracians' by Ellis Shuman
Originally from Iowa, Ellis has been living in Israel since the age of fifteen. He served in the Israeli army, was the founding member of a kibbutz, and currently resides on a moshav outside Jerusalem. He lived and worked in Bulgaria during the years 2009 - 2010.Here's the synopsis for 'Valley of Thracians':
A Peace Corps volunteer has gone missing in Bulgaria and everyone assumes he is dead, everyone except his grandfather, who refuses to give up hope. Retired literature professor Simon Matthews launches a desperate search only to be lured into a bizarre quest to retrieve a stolen Thracian artifact—a unique object of immense value others will stop at nothing to recover. Matthews travels through a Balkan landscape dotted with ancient tombs and fortresses, unaware that his grandson has been confined to an isolated mountain cabin, slowly recovering from a severe head injury. Nothing can be taken at face value, as the woman assisting Matthews in his quest and the nurse caring for his injured grandson may have ulterior motives in helping the two reunite. Even when Matthews succeeds in joining up with his grandson, departure from Bulgaria is only possible if the missing relic can be found.
Find out more about Ellis Shuman and his work via his blog.
Mongolia, home to Ghengis Khan, the founder of the Mongol Empire, is a landlocked country in Central East Asia. The country is known as 'The Land of the Eternal Blue Sky', because it enjoys over 250 days of sunshine per year. The geography is diverse, including the Gobi Desert and cold, mountainous regions in the north and west. Much of Mongolia consists of steppe landscapes and forests. Mongolia is cold, high and windy; its capital, Ulan Baatar, is the world's coldest, with an annual average temperature of 0 degrees Celsius.
Despite being the world's 19th largest country, Mongolia's population is small, being just under 3 million people. That's a lot of room to move! The steppe and desert landscape renders much of the country uninhabitable, however - not even the hardy Bactrian camel can survive in the Mongolian desert wastes. Crime, however, can and does flourish in Mongolia - as evidenced by my featured book:
'The Shadow Walker' by Michael Walters
Set in a country struggling to come to terms with the legacy of its past and the promise of its future, The Shadow Walker is a gripping thriller that introduces Inspector Nergui of the Mongolian Serious Crime squad. As winter's first snow falls on Ulan Baatar, the mutilated body of a British geologist is found in the city's most expensive hotel, apparently the fourth victim of a serial killer. With political pressure to solve the crimes mounting, Negrui, ex-head of the Serious Crime Squad, is ordered back to his former role, building an uneasy working relationship with his successor and protégé, Doripalam, and with Drew McLeish, a senior British CID officer sent out to support the investigation. But the murders continue - leading the officers through the disused factories of the decaying city, out on to the steppes among nomadic herdsmen and illegal gold prospectors, and down into the barren landscapes of the Gobi. And then McLeish himself is kidnapped. With political tensions mounting and time draining away, Nergui and Doripalam piece together a case that encompasses both personal tragedy and shadowy commercial interests in Mongolia's vast mineral and energy reserves. And, finally, in a long-abandoned warehouse amongst the decaying Soviet-era factories of Ulan Baatar, Nergui comes face to face with the only figure who can bring the story to its shattering conclusion.
You can find out more about Michael Walters and his books via his blog.
Beautiful and fragile Antarctica has long been on my radar when it comes to places to visit, spurred on by one friend who's already been and another who's announced that she's going. It's the world's most southerly continent, as well as the coldest, and includes the South Pole. At 5.4 million square miles, Antarctica is big, being nearly twice the size of Australia.
Although it's not what most of us think of when we picture a desert, Antartica only receives about eight inches of rain per year, mostly in coastal areas. Did I mention it's cold? Hell. yeah! The temperature in Antarctica has reached as low as −89 °C (−129 °F). Now that's chilly! Due to the harsh envionment, there are no permanent human residents, but between 1,000 to 5,000 people work at the research stations scattered across the continent. Only cold-adapted organisms survive, such as penguins, seals, algae and bacteria.
Makes you wonder what scope such an unforgiving, if beautiful, land can offer a novelist. Enter my fifth featured novel:
'Blood and Ice' by Robert Masello
I came across 'Blood and Ice' by accident, attracted by the back blurb when browsing in my local library. At the time, I didn't realise it was a vampire novel, but 'Blood and Ice' doesn't deal with bloodthirsty teenagers chomping on each other's necks. Instead, it's a classy and interesting story, set in a remote Antarctic research station. Here's the synopsis:
When journalist Michael Wilde is commissioned to write a feature about a remote research station deep in the frozen beauty of Antarctica, he is prepared for some extraordinary sights. But on a diving expedition in the polar sea he comes across something so extraordinary to be almost unbelievable - a man and woman chained together, deep in the ice. The doomed lovers are brought to the surface but as the ice begins to thaw the scientists discover the unusual contents of the bottles buried behind the pair, and realise they are all in terrible danger...
You can find out more about Robert Masello and his books via his website, www.robertmasello.com.
I'd love to hear from you! Can you add to this list?
Are there any memorable novels that you've enjoyed that are located in unusual countries? How well did the author portray the country? Did it make you yearn to visit and find out more? Leave me a comment and let me know!
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