The Unquiet Dead, by Ausma Zehanat Khan

>> Tuesday, April 09, 2019

TITLE: The Unquiet Dead
AUTHOR: Ausma Zehanat Khan

PAGES: 352
PUBLISHER: Minotaur Books

SETTING: Contemporary Canada, Bosnia during the war in the early 90s
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: Rachel Getty & Esa Khattak #1

Despite their many differences, Detective Rachel Getty trusts her boss, Esa Khattak, implicitly. But she's still uneasy at Khattak's tight-lipped secrecy when he asks her to look into Christopher Drayton's death. Drayton's apparently accidental fall from a cliff doesn't seem to warrant a police investigation, particularly not from Rachel and Khattak's team, which handles minority-sensitive cases. But when she learns that Drayton may have been living under an assumed name, Rachel begins to understand why Khattak is tip-toeing around this case. It soon comes to light that Drayton may have been a war criminal with ties to the Srebrenica massacre of 1995.

If that's true, any number of people might have had reason to help Drayton to his death, and a murder investigation could have far-reaching ripples throughout the community. But as Rachel and Khattak dig deeper into the life and death of Christopher Drayton, every question seems to lead only to more questions, with no easy answers. Had the specters of Srebrenica returned to haunt Drayton at the end, or had he been keeping secrets of an entirely different nature? Or, after all, did a man just fall to his death from the Bluffs?

In her spellbinding debut, Ausma Zehanat Khan has written a complex and provocative story of loss, redemption, and the cost of justice that will linger with readers long after turning the final page.
Esa Khattak is a Canadian police detective who has been put in charge of a unit that deals with crimes that are perceived to be in some way delicate and could have an impact on community relations, particularly when it comes to race. It's seen by some as a bit of a demotion, but Esa, who is of Pakistani background, does believe in what the unit is trying to do, so there's very little angst on his part about it.

Esa's partner is Rachel Getty, a woman of a very different background. Rachel is white Canadian, and comes from a police family. She's rough and awkward, to Esa's sophistication, and she still lives at home with her alcoholic, abusive father and her enabling mother. But she and Esa get along really well. They respect each other's skills, even when their styles don't match.

In this, the first book of the series, Esa and Rachel get involved in investigating the seemingly accidental death of a man called Christopher Drayton. It's not initially thought to be suspicious, but a friend of Esa's, who's the Department of Justice's historian, wants them to take another look. It turns out that Drayton was not actually Drayton, but a war criminal, a man involved in some of the worst events to take place during the wars in the former Yugoslavia. And it quickly becomes obvious that there were quite a few people who knew about this, people who may have wanted to take revenge.

This book was so frustrating! The setup was really interesting to me, but I thought the execution was really not great, at least not in the first half, which was as far as I got. It felt to me that the investigation lacked logic, possibly because Esa was keeping his cards very close to his chest and being annoyingly cryptic and mysterious and refusing to communicate, even to Rachel. It didn't feel like good police work.

But that was something I could have continued reading through, hoping it would improve. What made me put the book down in disgust was the misogyny. In about 150 pages we're introduced to, not one, but two female characters who are ridiculously and cartoonishly horrible, and in a stereotypically "feminine" way, too. There's Drayton's fiancée Melanie, an utter and complete bimbo. Manipulative, uses her sexuality as a weapon, doesn't give a shit about her daughters and just uses them to hurt her poor, nice ex-husband, the works. And then we meet Esa's former partner Laine. Also manipulative, also uses her sexuality as a weapon. Even worse, she went after Esa and when he rejected her, she falsely accused him of sexual harassment as revenge. And not only that, she had started dating Esa's best friend, and did her best to destroy that friendship.

These days, this sort of crap "characterisation" is not something I'm prepared to put up with. It was made even worse by Rachel's attitude. She's a bit of a jock, uninterested in all stereotypically female things. Which is absolutely fine. What is not fine is the way she (and, to an extent, the narrative) puts down any woman who does like girly stuff. Laine an Melanie, of course, but also any woman who's beautiful. Fuck that noise.



Darlynne 14 April 2019 at 20:07  

I cannot disagree with your assessment; neither woman was portrayed with any kind of complexity or characterization beyond "evil." This is lazy writing and sadly all too frequent.

My interest in Esa, Rachel and the story was enough to carry me through to the end. I also have the second book because I want to see where all of this is going. Hopefully better.

Your captcha hates me, but I am relentless.

Rosario 21 April 2019 at 05:23  

So it sounds like in the end you liked the story well enough to continue with the series? I kind of wish I hadn't got so annoyed with the way those women were portrayed, because the actual case was really interesting, and the characters had potential. But I've got completely intolerant about this stuff, maybe because of all the crap going on in the world at the moment.

Sorry about the captcha! The entire blogger commenting system is screwed up... I'm not getting notifications when someone posts a comment, either :(

Darlynne 21 April 2019 at 20:54  

I completely understand drawing a hard line on these depictions of female characters. This is something I ponder in my reading choices: is it OK (based on my definition of OK) to continue to read because I like the story despite the characterizations, while DNFing other books for the same problem? Technically, yes, it's always my choice on what to read, but still a dilemma. Thanks for your review and comments.

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