Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Minotaur Books, 352 pages, $15.99 (trade paperback release date - 12/15)

Quite a while back I read about eighty pages of this book, then stopped. I actually stopped before the “good” part, the tough look at the genocide of the Bosnian Muslims that Ausma Zehanat Khan portrays so movingly. I lost the rhythm of the story early on. Khan’s psychological scrutiny and depiction of the interplay between her main characters, Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty, detectives in the Toronto Community Policing Section, was obscure. There were oblique references to losses and traumas and they swirled in an obfuscatory way. Had I hung in there, I would have been mesmerized by Khan’s telling of the tragedies that befell Muslims in Srebrenica, for Khan bases her story on actual experiences. But her crime story is fictional.

“The Language of Secrets,” Khan’s second story in what is now a series, is due to be released in early 2016, so I took another stab at “The Unquiet Dead,” when the vague set-up of characters in the second book proved too confusing. I am happy that I did give “The Unquiet Dead” another try. 

Christopher Drayton was rich. He fell off a cliff near his house and died. Was it an accident, suicide, or was someone else responsible for his demise? Why would someone want to kill the kind old man? To a person, his neighbors said he was nice and generous, although a little vain. In fact, he wanted to donate a large sum to a new museum in the neighborhood devoted to Andalusian history and art. Drayton shared his life with a pneumatically-enhanced girlfriend and her two daughters. Everything seemed to be peachy keen.

Why would Esa Khattak, who was usually called in for problems in the Muslim community, be asked to look into Drayton’s death? Rachel Getty is our surrogate; she is as clueless as we are as she follows Khattak through the first stages of investigation. Khattak is purposely keeping Getty in the dark so he can get her unbiased view. Getty is no wiser for a long time, until certain aspects of Drayton’s life are actually spilled out onto her lap. It appears that Drayton might not have been who he claimed to be.

It is a politically precarious investigation for Khattak and Getty. There are both too many suspects — if Drayton was murdered — and too few, depending on who Drayton really was or was perceived to be. How does the Srebrenica horror work its way into the story? When a lot of the murkiness, both personal and professional, is pushed aside, Khan’s story shines.

In many favorable ways, Khan’s pacing and storytelling are reminiscent of another Canadian writer, Louise Penny. Each author likes to slowly unveil her story, with a lot of asides for her large cast of peripheral characters, and the motives behind the churned-up emotions that the dead create.

My review of “The Language of Secrets” will follow closer to its publication in 2016. I did enjoy it more because the writing is much more straightforward and Khan’s main characters are steadier and more clearly defined, having hoisted off some personal issues in “The Unquiet Dead.”

No comments:

Post a Comment