Saturday, August 24, 2013

Thrills in Exotic Locations

In the opening action sequence of the James Bond movie, "Skyfall", our hero is racing on a motorcycle after an unnamed assailant through the streets of Istanbul, Turkey. The bikes drive over the rooftops of the Grand Bazaar and then crash through a window into the souk itself, where they speed past startled shopkeepers and shoppers. Eventually they reach the railroad tracks where we witness a fight to the death atop a speeding train.

"Take the shot," the command comes from London and a rifle is fired. James Bond plunges off the train to the river far below. The opening credits of the movie begin to roll across the screen.

Rewind to the motorcycle chase. While most viewers are wondering how 007 manages to stay on the bike as it bounds up stairways and through glass, I am enthralled by the scenery barely glimpsed behind the motorcycles. The minarets of Istanbul's amazing mosques. The exotic attractions and fragrances of the markets. The scenic valley through which the train travels. These scenes of a fascinating city bring back memories of my own visit to Istanbul in the spring of 2010.

Lovers of action movies might not give it a second thought, but I wonder what James Bond ate while he was in Istanbul. Where did he stay? Did he have a few hours of free time to visit the Topkapi Palace?

For me, visiting a foreign city in a movie, or when reading a book, gives one an excellent opportunity to learn about that distant land, its culture and history. The authors of many thrillers want to keep the action in their books moving at a 007-pace and give little thought to providing insights about the local food or customs.

Sorry, but that's not what interests me in a book set in an exotic location. Tell me the history of the place, talk to me about the religion of its people, and explain the traditions and daily life of those who live there. Once I have all that background in my mind, reading a suspense novel has much more meaning for me.

The beauty of Bulgaria

My wife and I recently accepted a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live and work in Bulgaria for two years. We had an apartment in Sofia and worked mundane jobs in a high tech office setting. What made our experience unique was the chance it gave us to explore Bulgaria.

Bulgaria is desperately trying to catch up with modern world. Alongside the progress there is still a respect for the country's traditions and history. Speeding Mercedes compete for space on the highways and cobblestone streets with horse-drawn wagons. Picturesque monasteries are revered as shrines to Orthodox Christianity. Stunning architecture dating back two centuries can be seen in the villages. And Bulgaria has sandy beaches and steep mountain ski slopes making it a very affordable destination for both summer and winter visitors.

Upon returning to our permanent home in Israel I couldn't stop thinking about Bulgaria. I took on a self-appointed mission of writing about the country, encouraging tourists to visit. And I wrote a suspense novel set in Bulgaria.

My book, Valley of Thracians, is not your usual thriller, because unlike the James Bond movies, it highlights the setting as much as the action. Some have called it a combination of mystery and travelogue. Bulgarian food, history, religion, and culture all play roles in the novel, making the scenic background an important element of the story.

Bulgaria would make a good setting for a future James Bond movie. I could easily envision 007 racing on a motorbike through the Balkan Mountains, along the Black Sea coast or through the crowded streets of Plovdiv. The only thing I would ask of our hero is to slow down his pace just a little bit and take the time to learn about Bulgaria. If James Bond would sit down at a Sofia restaurant for a shopska salad and a glass of rakia liquor, it would really make my day.

Originally posted on Thriller Ink

1 comment:

  1. I have to admit that when I read a thriller the action and suspense is more important than the scenery. As long as the author gets the right balance of all the elements it should be a good story.