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?
This morning, writing this blog post in the wake of the horrific events in Charlottesville, Virginia over the last few days, I really found myself wishing that there were more men like Esa Khattak. A man with clear eyes and a cool head; a man who, no matter how harrowing the events he has had to face, can look forward with calmness, authority and a sense of optimism.
Ausma Zehanat Khan holds a Ph.D. in International Human Rights Law with a specialisation in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans, and it shows – though she wears her learning lightly. This gripping, fascinating and harrowing read never feels like a lecture or a series of facts in search of a story – it educates whilst keeping you absolutely wrapped in its narrative and it is definitely one of Ausma’s strengths as a writer that we never feel as if her research has merely found its way into a novel.
The fab CrimebookJunkie hosted a guest slot from @ClaireKreads and I definitely agreed with her views about the way that it resonated so strongly with another fabulous novel from 2017 -Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson: Both of these reads really challenge the reader with their harrowing depiction of human suffering – yet at the same time have such a strong narrative tow that you can’t put them down and learn a lot along the way.
I think that I personally preferred The Unquiet Dead: its quiet dignity in revealing the most profound human suffering sometimes left me speechless with horror and I felt the need to press it onto my friend Lorna immediately as I desperately wanted someone to talk about it with. We are off soon on a long drive so that we can unpick it to our hearts’ content and mull over some of the things that we’ve learned as a result.
I have read many books with a background of war and conflict at their heart, but few have packed such an emotional punch as this one. Khan never once lets overwritten, cluttered prose or gratuitous lingering on horror to impede the elegant beauty of her writing, and it is all the more powerfully moving as a result. The clean and simple style juxtaposes strikingly with the unfeasible brutality that she is describing and actually made me ‘step away’ from the text several times as a result to get an emotional ‘breather’.
Like Feargal Keane’s essays about his time in Rwanda, what this novel never allows you to forget is that that this actually happened. Although this is a novel, the events that you are reading about definitely happened to someone and I think that Khan balances this fine tissue of truth and fiction perfectly. No one reading this book could possibly come away unscathed by it and it’s been a hard book to follow as I find myself continuously thinking back to it and thinking about the fates of some of its characters.
I hate spoilers, so I don’t want to dwell too long on the plot of The Unquiet Dead – suffice to say that the skilful way that Khan weaves the present day murder mystery and detective team of Khattak & Getty with the harrowing events of the Balkan conflict is superbly done and remains convincing throughout. I know at times it can feel like we are drowning in male/ female detective teams with complicated back stories but this is a pleasing alliance with two very different points of view which collide pleasingly and create plenty of room for their relationship to develop (hopefully) in subsequent adventures.
The Unquiet Dead is a stunning debut and one that I will definitely be recommending to my friends – it packs a powerful emotional punch; educates just as much as it engages the reader and contains a cast of characters that you not only believe in but actively want to believe are real people with real lives that you wish you could meet. I can’t wait to see what Rachel Getty and Essa Khattak do next. I’m hooked.
Author On The Shelf
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 was published in February 2017. She is also at work on a fantasy series, to be published by Harper Voyager, beginning October 2017. The Bloodprint is Book One of the Khorasan Archives.
A frequent lecturer and commentator, Ms. Khan holds a Ph.D. in International Human Rights Law with a research specialization in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans. Ms. Khan completed her LL.B. and LL.M. at the University of Ottawa, and her B.A. in English Literature & Sociology at the University of Toronto.
Formerly, she served as Editor in Chief of Muslim Girl magazine. The first magazine to address a target audience of young Muslim women, Muslim Girl re-shaped the conversation about Muslim women in North America. The magazine was the subject of two documentaries, and hundreds of national and international profiles and interviews, including CNN International, Current TV, and Al Jazeera “Everywoman”.
Ms. Khan practised immigration law in Toronto and has taught international human rights law at Northwestern University, as well as human rights and business law at York University. She is a long-time community activist and writer, and currently lives in Colorado with her husband. (bio from the author’s site)
Buy The Unquiet Dead here – and you’re in luck as No Exit Press are currently offering a fab 50% off