Novel set mainly in WW2 Auschwitz/Birkenau
Disturbing thriller set in Canada and Bosnia
2nd August 2017
The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan – thriller set in Canada and Bosnia.
Scarborough is an area of Toronto that borders the ocean. Christopher Drayton tumbles from the cliffs onto the rocks below and dies. The book is a classic tale of ‘did he fall or was he pushed’? And who would have wanted to kill him?
Detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty investigate. The answer is any number of people could wish to see him dead. It turns out pretty quickly that Chrisopher was not all he seemed to be. He used, before he changed his name as he came to Canada, to be Dražen Krstic – a commander in the Serbian Bosnian army who had been involved in the massacre of Srebrenica and other atrocities in the Balkans War of the 1990s. He had many enemies. Had his victims’ families discovered his alias and where he now lived? Or was there – if indeed he had been pushed – any connection to either his fiancé, the oddly voluptuous Melanie Blessant, her divorced husband, or her two daughters? She certainly wanted his money – the reason she was going to marry him – and was obsessed with finding his will and what it contained. She threatened to take her daughters with her when she remarried, and to remove them from her husband’s co-custody. So did he have a motive as well?
The Unquiet Dead is a thriller that delves deep into family relationships (of Esa and Rachel as much as of the other characters…) and the Bosnian community in Toronto. Moral questions are asked. If members of the Bosnian community were responsible, then was the action not perhaps justified?
A really good, and exciting read, but with one quite major disrupt. Every third chapter in the book is a flash back to the Balkans in the 1990s. The stories told are truly disturbing and truly harrowing. For some reason (and it may just be me) these chapters feel far more real than the detective narrative itself. It was hard to flip back from them into the main story – which, although it isn’t, seemed a little trite and normal by comparison. And the Balkans chapters are also very political. Yes, we all know about the suspicions concerning the UN (and in particular the Dutch troops) in the events surrounding Srebrenica and other attrocities – and it is quite likely that, at the very least, the UN troops turned a blind eye to genocide. But Ausma Zehanat Khan presents these facts with such ‘certainty’ that all doubt as to guilt is removed. This may, or may not, be fair. The reader has to be aware that s/he is possibly being told a version of the truth…
I have read many thrillers (for example the excellent Claymore Straker series by Paul E Hardisty) where political concerns are woven into the narrative to great, but subtle, effect. The Unquiet Dead does not fit into this category. It is much more ‘in your face’. That said, it is very brave and worthwhile effort to cover a very complex subject. It is a book that has returned to me a few times over the couple of days since I put it down.
Tony for the TripFiction team
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