In writing about places that captivate, authors risk exoticizing locations to the extent that they contract a serious disease: Lonely Planetitis. As "an avid traveler, often to remote places," Elsie Sze, raised in Hong Kong and resident in Toronto, would appear susceptible to a bout.
Her enthusiasm for travel infects The Heart of the Buddha, a novel of mysticism, love, sisterly devotion and adventure located amid the clichéd "snow-covered peaks" and "lush green ... valleys" of the Himalayas. But the setting almost overwhelms the story, which is a pity. Behind the travel-guide speak is a breathless tale of a disappearance, a manhunt and the return of religious treasure.
Idealistic, romantic Marian leaves her job in Toronto and heads to the Bhutanese capital, Thimphu, there to do good works reorganizing a public library. Two twists of a prayer wheel later and she's in thrall to an athletic monk on a mission (cue the appearance of the People's Liberation Army as pantomime villains). He inadvertently endangers their lives as he attempts to smuggle a collection of sacred Buddhist texts out of Tibet.
When Marian vanishes, twin sister Ruth dashes from Canada to find her, and on a trail of treachery finds an unlikely love of her own her "tour" guide. The plot thickens and quickens, the tension escalates. If only the cheese momos, guesthouses and colorful native flora would migrate back to the travel section.