Today it is my great pleasure to be taking part in the blog tour for Ausma Zehanat Khan’s The Unquiet Dead. A big thanks to Anne Cater and publishers No Exit Press for inviting me to be a part of the tour. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the book in just a short moment, but first up, here is what it is all about.
The Official Book Blurb
One man is dead.
But thousands were his victims.
Can a single murder avenge that of many?
Scarborough Bluffs, Toronto: the body of Christopher Drayton is found at the foot of the cliffs. Muslim Detective Esa Khattak, head of the Community Policing Unit, and his partner Rachel Getty are called in to investigate. As the secrets of Drayton’s role in the 1995 Srebrenica genocide of Bosnian Muslims surface, the harrowing significance of his death makes it difficult to remain objective. In a community haunted by the atrocities of war, anyone could be a suspect. And when the victim is a man with so many deaths to his name, could it be that justice has at long last been served?
In this important debut novel, Ausma Zehanat Khan has written a compelling and provocative mystery exploring the complexities of identity, loss, and redemption.
Winner of the Barry Award, Arthur Ellis Award, and Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Best First Novel.
Okay. So if you are looking for a cosy crime read then this probably isn’t the book for you. However, if you like your crime novel to have a deeper meaning, one containing elements which are designed to do more than simply shock, then absolutely pick this book up and give it a whirl. Whilst it is not a book full of high octane chases, or grandiose and overstated murders, it is a darkly compelling novel which looks back to one of the darkest periods from recent European history. I found myself being slowly drawn in from the very start by a story which would not let me go until I was done.
Detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty of the Community Policing Unit find themselves called in on a case, which on the face of it, falls well outside of their remit, assuming it is a even case at all. A man has fallen to his death from the bluffs, something which would ordinarily garner little interest. That is if this same person hadn’t been accused of being a war criminal involved in one of the worst cases of genocide in recent times. When Khattak is contacted about the case, he knows accepting means confronting one of his own demons, bringing him face to face with the man who used to be his best friend. But he has a job to do, one which will impact on his life in a way he could never have predicted.
From the very opening, I found the characters of Khattak and Rachel quite endearing which some may find a little strange. Khattak is not a particularly open character, and there are secrets in his past which take some time to unfurl, ones which even his partner Rachel doesn’t know the whole truth of. He is aloof and quiet, seemingly taking a back seat at times, far more than you would expect from the head honcho in the department, and yet there was something about him. Perhaps it was his wounded spirit, perhaps his empathy for the victims – he had travelled to Bosnia as a student looking to help provide humanitarian aid and he is himself a Muslim – or maybe it was the dark and mysterious element of the character which made him appealing. Whatever it was, he was a character I could get behind.
Rachel was his polar opposite. Not without her own secrets and problems, she was forthright and open in her interactions with people, taking the lead where Khattak seemed to stand back. I really liked this about her, also her tenacity in the face of adversity and her determination not to give up. She has a great respect for Khattak, but not enough to decline to call him out when he is making mistakes. Together they really worked as a pairing, managing to navigate a very complex and miserable tale of prejudice and persecution to find the truth about Christopher Drayton’s mysterious fall. Supported by a diverse cast of characters, both friend and suspect, the author has created a very insightful and believable tale.
This was not always an easy book to read. If you have any memory of what occurred in Bosnia in the nineteen nineties, especially in places like Srebrenica, then you will understand why. If you are not aware you can easily look it up on line but prepare yourself as it is not a pretty story at all. Rape and genocide were typical of this conflict and all on a scale which beggars belief. Even if you do not know the history of this conflict, there is enough of it recounted in the story to make it clear what occurred, without being overly gratuitous.
In a story such as this, exploring some of the horror experienced is unavoidable, but the author has managed to portray in such a way that the violence is clear but does not expel you from the story. Some chapters are told in the voices of the victims, these are perhaps the hardest to read. Other parts of the book feature passages from eye witness testimony. But the lion’s share of the book is told in third person as we follow Khattak and Rachel and their investigation.
As I said earlier, it is not the fastest paced book you will read, but neither story nor the investigation lend themselves to be raced through anyway. This is a story which deserves your attention, deserves to be lingered over and deserves to be fully understood, if only to give another voice to the many thousands of victims who cannot speak for themselves. There is no grand reveal here. Instead the subtlety with which the story is slowly and carefully revealed, the way in which all elements are drawn together, is pitch perfect, much like a skilfully played adagio.
This is one of those strange books in which it is hard to feel anything for the victim, assuming in fact, that it was anything more than a simple fall which brought about his demise. Was he a good man or bad? An entrepreneur or a murdered? Did he fall or was he pushed? You will not gain an answer on any of this until the end. You may think you know, may assume you have guessed who could possibly have wanted to exact revenge upon Drayton, but you may well be completely wrong. There were elements of the story which are more obvious than others, and the clues are all there if you look closely, or perhaps more accurately, listen to the voices of the victims. For their stories are both poignant and telling. They may be hard to digest, hard to read at times, but they are a version of a truth.
This book may be fiction, but the essence of what you are reading really did happen. And that, more than anything else, is perhaps the most powerful, thought provoking and heart wrenching truth of all.
My thanks to publisher No Exit Press for the advance copy of The Unquiet Dead for review. It is available to purchase now from the following retailers.
About the Author
Ausma Zehanat Khan is the author of The Unquiet Dead, published by St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books, and winner of the Barry Award, the Arthur Ellis Award and the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Best First Novel. Her widely acclaimed second novel, The Language of Secrets, was published in 2016. Among the Ruins, her third mystery will be published in February 2017. She is also at work on a fantasy series, to be published by Harper Voyager, beginning in 2017. The Bloodprint is Book One of the Khorasan Archives.
Make sure to check in with some of the other brilliant blogs taking part in the tour.