The Unquiet Dead
By Ausma Zehanat Khan
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Scott
As Ausma Zehanat Khan cites in her afterword:
“For the first time since the Second World War, a genocide campaign of staggering ferocity and ruthlessness was unleashed against a civilian population in Europe, nearly in tandem with the international intervention that eventually became complicit in the suffering of Bosnia’s people.”
Often cited as the U.N.’s greatest failure in modern history, the Serbian/Croatia-Bosnian conflict, with its ethnic cleansing, mass and pointless slaughter of men, children, and women, the rape camps and other acts of torture and cultural destruction of a people sets the background for this thrilling and thought provoking investigative novel.
When a man falls to his death, Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty are asked by the Canadian Department of Justice to look into this Scarborough individuals death, acting under the auspices of the Community Policing Section, which Esa heads, and the Toronto police officer who has worked with him successfully and capably before, Rachel. The clues, plots and subplots thicken with every page turned and the novel wends and turns in a maddening gyre toward its heartbreaking conclusion. As in any good mystery novel, the clues are laid out for you at the appropriate moments and twist and turn on themselves. It reminded me a lot of Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels – especially Murder on the Orient Express, but with a modern grittiness to it that makes it shine in its own light.
The writing is smooth and calculated, neither rushing the reader forward, nor denying him or her the information needed at the time. The Unquiet Dead keeps almost a solemn tone throughout, littered with quotes from the testimonies of the War Crimes Tribunal, Eyewitness Accounts and other quotes all pertinent to the 1992-1995 conflict. The pace is well executed; the diction perfect for this type of novel – dancing, thoughtful, and sometimes, through necessity, brutally blunt.
The characterization is where the novel really speaks out, both with the cast of characters, in the present and past; The Unquiet Dead have their echoes of lament of their own as well. Each character is displayed in stunning three-dimensions, holding their secrets and pasts from the reader until necessitated by the plot. Esa and Rachel, the chief protagonists in the book are deep characters with problems rooted in the past and the present, that occasionally lead the reader off track so the mystery can build to its final resolution.
Like Agatha Christie, Ausma Zehanat Khan should be heralded as a premiere writer of the mystery genre. Fans of Poirot, war stories, or those looking for a greater understanding of the Serbian/Croatia-Bosnian war and the sordid deeds committed there – as well as the casual reader – all will find something sticking to them in this well executed novel. The Unquiet Dead will leave you stories for life. It fully merits its five star rating and I would highly recommend it to anyone; especially Canadians.
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