I’m delighted to be part of the UK launch celebrations for The Unquiet Dead by Asuma Zehanat Khan. The Unquiet Dead is part of the Detective Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty Mysteries.
The Unquiet Dead was published by No Exit Press on 19th July 2017 and is available for purchase here.
The Unquiet Dead
One man is dead.
But thousands were his victims.
Can a single murder avenge that of many?
Scarborough Bluffs, Toronto: the body of Christopher Drayton is found at the foot of the cliffs. Muslim Detective Esa Khattak, head of the Community Policing Unit, and his partner Rachel Getty are called in to investigate. As the secrets of Drayton’s role in the 1995 Srebrenica genocide of Bosnian Muslims surface, the harrowing significance of his death makes it difficult to remain objective. In a community haunted by the atrocities of war, anyone could be a suspect. And when the victim is a man with so many deaths to his name, could it be that justice has at long last been served?
In this important debut novel, Ausma Zehanat Khan has written a compelling and provocative mystery exploring the complexities of identity, loss, and redemption.
An Extract from The Unquiet Dead
CPS, the Community Policing Section that Khattak headed, was still fragile, barely a year into its existence. The ambit was deliberately vague because CPS was a fig leaf for the most problematic community relations issue of all – Islam. A steady shift to the right in Canadian politics, coupled with the spectacular bungling of the Maher Arar terrorism case in 2002, had birthed a generation of activist lawyers who pushed back vigorously against what they called tainted multiculturalism. Maher Arar’s saga of extraordinary rendition and torture had mobilized them, making front-page news for months and costing the federal government millions in compensation when Arar had been cleared of all links to terrorism. A hastily concocted Community Policing Section had been the federal government’s response, and who better than Esa Khattak to head it? A second-generation Canadian Muslim, his career had seen him transition seamlessly from Toronto’s homicide squad to national counterintelligence work at INSET, one of the Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams. CPS called on both skill sets. Khattak was a rising star with an inbuilt understanding of the city of Toronto’s shifting demographic landscape. At CPS, he was asked to lend his expertise to sensitive police investigations throughout the country at the request of senior investigating officers from any branch of government.
The job had been offered to Khattak as a promotion, his acceptance of it touted as a public relations victory. Khattak had taken it because of the freedom it represented: the chance to appoint his own team, and as with INSET, the opportunity to work with partners at all levels of government to bring nuance and consideration to increasingly complex cases.
And for other reasons he had never offered up for public scrutiny.
His mandate was couched in generic terms: sensitivity training for police services, community support, and an alternative viewpoint in cases involving minorities, particularly Muslim minorities. Both he and his superiors understood the unspoken rationale behind the choice of a decorated INSET officer to head up CPS. If Khattak performed well, then greater glory to the city, province, and nation. If he ran into barriers from within the community as he pursued his coreligionists, no one could accuse the CPS of bias. Everyone’s hands were clean.
It didn’t matter to Khattak that this was how he had been lured into the job by his former superintendent, Robert Palmer. He loved police work. It suited an analytical nature tempered by a long-simmering hunger for justice. And if he was being used, as indisputably he was, he was also prepared to enact his own vision for CPS.
What flame-fanning bigots across the border would doubtlessly call community pandering, a fig-leaf jihad. Take anything a Muslim touched, add the word jihad to it, and immediately you produced something ugly and divisive.
But Tom wasn’t one of these. Chief historian at the Department of Justice, he was a gifted academic whose fatherly demeanor masked a passion for the truth as sharp and relentless as Khattak’s own.
He had called to ask Khattak to investigate the death of a Scarborough man named Christopher Drayton. There was no reason that CPS should have an interest in the man’s death. He had fallen from a section of the Scarborough Bluffs known as the Cathedral. His death had been swift and certain with no evidence of outside interference.
Khattak had pointed this out to his friend in measured tones, and Tom had let him. When he’d finished, Tom gave him the real reason for his call and the reason it encroached upon Khattak’s jurisdiction.
Khattak heard the worry and fear beneath Tom Paley’s words.
And into the remnants of Khattak’s prayer intruded a series of recollections from his youth. Of news reports, hurriedly organized meetings and volunteer drives, followed too slowly by action. He saw himself as a young man joining others in a circle around the flame at Parliament Hill. He absorbed the thick, despairing heat of that summer into his skin. His dark hair flattened against his head; he felt in that moment his own impotence.
He listened to Tom’s labored explanation, not liking the hitch in his friend’s breath. When Tom came to the nature of his request, Khattak agreed. But his words were slow, weighted by the years that had passed since that summer. Still, he would do as asked.
‘Don’t go alone,’ Tom said. ‘You’ll need to look objective.’
Khattak took no offense at the phrasing. He knew the unspoken truth as well as Tom did.
Because you can’t be.
About Ausma Zehenat
Photo courtesy of Atif Khan
Ausma Zehanat Khan is the author of The Unquiet Dead and winner of the Barry Award, the Arthur Ellis Award and the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Best First Novel. She was Editor in Chief of Muslim Girl magazine. The first North American magazine to address a target audience of young Muslim women.
Married and living in Colorado, Ausma has a Ph.D. in International Human Rights Law with a research specialization in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans.
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