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Khan, Ausma Zehanat - 'The Unquiet Dead'
Hardback: 336 pages (Feb. 2015) Publisher: Minotaur Books ISBN: 1250055113

A great first novel from this author, it is set in Canada and features two main detectives. One is a Canadian Muslim named Esa Khattak (whose ancestors are from Pakistan), and has migrated from the homicide squad in Toronto, to national counter-intelligence work, and the other is Rachel Getty. Esa is called in to investigate the death of Christopher Drayton, who had fallen to his death from the Scarborough Bluffs. The death has been ruled as an accident by the coroner, but was it really murder, or even suicide? Esa's childhood friend, Nathan Clare is a famous author, and Esa hopes he might be able to provide some useful background information to Drayton. A search of Drayton's house reveals that the gun he normally keeps in a locked drawer is found on the floor of his office, but hasn't been fired, and there are puddles of candlewax on the floor but no candles. And then Rachel discovers a folded piece of paper with the words 'Is this waiting more desperate than the shooting'. A further search reveals several more similar pieces of paper, with just one cryptic sentence on each. Someone had been sending these messages to Drayton, but why, and how are they related to his death?

Gradually the detectives proceed with their investigation. They interview the girlfriend, and her two daughters (and ex-husband), and the neighbours, including the woman called 'Mink' who is in charge of the local Andalusia museum, which Christopher Drayton was apparently about to donate money to.

And then they discover that Christopher Drayton was really Drazen Krstic, Chief of Security of the Drina Corps in the Bosnian Serb Army, responsible for atrocities in Srebrenica, where eight thousand Muslim boys and men had been murdered in less than a week, in an atrocity equalling those that happened in the Second World War. And there is plenty more that he had been responsible for. Interspersed chapters recount the fate of a number of children who suffered the atrocities of Srebenica, atrocities Krstic was responsible for, and that the UN failed to prevent, in case we are in any doubt about the horrors that the victim had perpetrated. However, with a false identity, somehow he had managed to escape to Canada, and remain undetected, until he met with his accident.

This is a powerful book, from the point of view of reminding us just what went on in the former Yugoslavia as it disintegrated into civil war just over twenty years ago; an event as evil and horrible as the persecution of the Jews and others in the Second World War, but perhaps less well remembered. Perhaps someone had discovered Christopher's real identity, and exacted a revenge, but who? The characters of the two main detectives are well drawn, two sympathetic characters, the gutsy no-nonsense female paired up well with the thoughtful, spiritual older and more experienced male. A discomforting but intriguing read.

Michelle Peckham, England
March 2015

More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 1/03/2015 15:25