The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan

unquietMysteries are a perfect genre for informing readers about difficult political or historical issues. The Unquiet Dead is a perfect example. It begins with a case about a Canadian man who falls off a cliff. But it delves into much more sensitive matter when it’s discovered that the dead man is actually a war criminal from the Bosnian War. Was his death an accident? A domestic dispute?   Or something much more sinister?

Called in to investigate are Esa Khattak and his partner Rachel Getty. There are plenty of potential suspects – Chris was on the verge of getting married and he was also on the verge of donating a large amount of money to a charity preserving Andalusian history. Are those things connected with his death?

One of the events this story focuses on is the massacre at Srebrenica, and the failure of the United Nations to maintain this area as the “safe area” it was designated. More than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed. Also described are the systematic rape of thousands of women and children by the Serb military forces.

These are historical events I want to close my eyes to, but I know I shouldn’t. Understanding foreign events is not one of my strengths. But these are events that took place in my lifetime, under a President I admired (although this book is told from a Canadian rather than a U.S. perspective).  What happens in this novel shows that the events that occurred in Bosnia will have serious repercussions for years to come.

The novel doesn’t just recount these events, but you see it through the eyes of different characters in different places.  You also get a sense of some of the political issues involved, such as whether it was a war or a genocide.  So while it was an interesting and engaging mystery, it was also a history lesson, and an important one. In fact, I felt like author Ausma Zehanat Khan goes easy on us at times.  She spares us some of the horrors that occurred, but tells us enough to help us understand.

As a mystery, some things I saw coming and some I didn’t, but it kept my interest throughout. Rachel’s character was really well-developed, and in many ways she’s the center of this book rather than Khattak. Their working and personal relationship was interesting and I liked that much was not resolved in this book, paving the way for future novels. Rachel’s struggles with her family and her career and relationship issues made her a likeable character. We also see her character grow as she learns more about the events in Bosnia, from people who lived through it.

The only thing I wasn’t crazy about is the storyline about how men are easily taken in by manipulative women. Esa and his friend Nate had their friendship destroyed by a deceptive woman, and then Esa falls under the “spell” of another woman in the story, and completely loses his professional perspective. On the one hand, it’s a plot device that allows Rachel to shine as a detective, but on the other hand, it seemed a bit unrealistic, and several of the female characters seemed more like caricatures than real people.

That aside, this is a book I enjoyed reading even though it looks at a horrific moment in history. I was glad to learn more about the atrocities committed in Bosnia, and this novel featured a team of detectives I hope to see again.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley and publisher St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.  This book will be available January 13, 2015.

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