The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan
Minotaur Books: January 13, 2015
Source: Free From Library
The Unquiet Dead is a mystery set in Ontario, Canada. Esa Khattak is the director Canada’s Community Policing Section, which investigates minority-sensitive cases. Aided by his partner, Rachel Getty, Esa is called out to an apparent suicide that, at first blush, seems to have nothing to do with the type of work that Esa and his division examine. However, it soon becomes clear that Christopher Drayton is not the man he claimed to be and his hidden past may have gotten him killed.
I picked up The Unquiet Dead because it’s Canadian-set and I’m always on the look out for a Louise Penny read-alike. And, I think I may have found it with Khan’s series. For anyone who has enjoyed Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series, Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty are a must read. Esa reminds me very much of Gamache, especially in the fact that Esa is an introspective and cerebral character. Like Gamache, Esa looks at the human beings involved in the crime being investigating, never forgetting their motivations or even finding empathy for their choices. The actions of those involved in the crime are never black and white and Esa never forgets this. This kind of emphasis on human characteristics rather than the crime itself is what draws me again and again to Louise Penny, and I think the same can be said of The Unquiet Dead.
Assisting Esa is Rachel Getty and she’s the perfect foil to Esa’s more introspective approach. Rachel is less likely to slow the pace of the investigation, but still believes deeply in Esa’s methods. Rachel is also a disgraced officer, and readers don’t know the full story about why Rachel was dismissed. There’s also some family drama in Rachel’s home life. Her brother has been missing for years, her father is a drunk, and her mother is a cruel woman. In still living at home, Rachel is punishing herself for her brother’s disappearance and she never stops looking for him. Both Esa and Rachel were complicated characters. Readers don’t yet know their full stories, but what we do know about them so far will intrigue readers of character-driven mysteries.
The other element that I thought was really well done was the cultural aspect to the crime. The author tackles the Bosnian war and the refugees that came to Canada in the 1990s. Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about the Bosnian war; I would have been a kid when this was happening in the news. The author depicts the horrifying atmosphere for those that lived through the war, bringing home the reality more effectively than a factual newscast. I thought that the author takes on contemporary issues in a thoughtful and appropriate manner, making The Unquiet Dead a compelling read. It’s one thing to read/hear about such things in the news, but hearing a story linked to an actual person, even if it’s just in fiction, can really shed light on the personal tragedy to those who were involved. The Unquiet Dead wasn’t always an easy read, but I think it’s an important one, and one that will appeal to readers who are looking for more diversity in their reading.
The Unquiet Dead marks the debut of a compelling and timely mystery series. The characters are engaging with their individual issues and the mystery breaths lives to contemporary cultural issues. Khan is a mystery author to keep your eye on.
As I mentioned in my review, The Unquiet Dead reminded my of Louise Penny’s Armond Gamache. Not only does Penny’s series feature a cerebral character like Esa, but she also explores the human element to each crime, often diving into the mind of the guilty party. The series only gets better with each book, but it’s necessary to start with book one, Still Life.
For another mystery that tackles cultural issues in crime, Carolyn Baugh’s Quicksand is another good follow-up read. The main character in Baugh’s series is Nora Khalil, a young Muslim woman who is a police detective. See my full review of Quicksand.