cover image Lost in the Valley of Death: A Story of Obsession and Danger in the Himalayas

Lost in the Valley of Death: A Story of Obsession and Danger in the Himalayas

Harley Rustad. Harper, $29.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-296596-7

Journalist Rustad (Big Lonely Doug) crafts a haunting narrative of the life of Justin Alexander Shetler, an American backpacker who disappeared in the Indian Himalayas in 2016. A trained survivalist who’d traveled extensively, Shetler vanished while on a trip through India’s remote Parvati Valley. Though it’s renowned for its natural beauty, Rustad writes that Parvati (often called India’s “backpacker Bermuda Triangle”) is also known for its dangerous terrain where dozens have gone missing. Pulling from hundreds of interviews and his own travels to where Shetler was last seen, Rustad draws readers into a tale of adventure and tragedy that, despite its dark outcome, is illuminated with a remarkable sense of humanity. He paints a moving portrait of Shetler, a young man in love with the wilderness who was animated by a daring spirit (“When my greater fear told me no, Justin would just go for something,” one friend recalls). But even in recounting Shetler’s remarkable journeys, Rustad never veers into hagiography, taking time to reflect upon Shelter’s mental health struggles after having being sexually abused as a boy and teen, and how his friends were worried his disappearance may have been a suicide. Equal parts tribute and travelogue, this is sure to enthrall those curious about a life lived to the extreme. Agent: Stuart Krichevsky, Stuart Krichevsky Literary Agency. (Jan.)