Book Reviews by Serena Nanda and Joan Gregg: Crime and Culture, Past is Present
Reviewed by Serena Nanda and Joan Young Gregg*
The three crime novels reviewed are not your ordinary fast beach reads. They take place in different cultures and all the crimes, which occur in the present, are connected to a specific historical context. None of the three novels makes you feel like you are reading a textbook, but each raises issues about international politics and social justice in a completely engaging way. Captivating flashbacks expressed in personal experiences from the past illuminate the motivation of the perpetrators and help explain the fate of the victims. All three novels are police procedurals, with women playing important roles as police officers or family members.
The interaction among the officers of the law provides interesting, suspenseful and even thrilling encounters which add to the excitement of the narratives. These mysteries are all by relatively new or not well known authors and will make you want to add them to your 'must read' list.
The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Khan. 2015. Minotaur. Ausma Khan has a doctorate in international human rights law and her commitment to social justice is reflected in her two mysteries, The Unquiet Dead and The Language of Secrets. Khan is committed to telling stories that matter and letting us hear the voices of people who are marginalized, stigmatized, or made invisible in contemporary society. The plot structure involves the mysterious death of a man who appears to have fallen off a cliff, in a suburb of Toronto, Canada. No clues surround the victim or are found in the area to suggest whether he was pushed, accidentally fell, or committed suicide.
His death is investigated by Esa Khattak, an experienced Muslim detective and Rachel Getty, his relatively inexperienced but intuitive Canadian female sidekick, who refuses to be persuaded that it was anything but a murder. Thanks to her determination the investigation continues in spite of Detective Khattak's ambivalence, which partly derives from his growing romantic distraction by a woman who appears later as a possible suspect. As the novel moves forward, it incorporates authentic and terrifying historical flashbacks to the 1995 war in Bosnia.
This background forms the basis of the story — actually several stories — that involves issues of complex personal identities and ideas of justice as they relate to war. Do you remember the war and the genocide in Bosnia? The slaughter and mass burials of thousands of Muslims in Srebrenica? The failures of the Western peacekeepers to keep order and the difficulties in bringing the perpetrators to justice in an international court? Khan's book reminds us of that history and the twists and turns in the narrative will not only keep the reader guessing about the conclusion to the case, but also raise in a deep, personal, and meaningful way, questions of law and war that are still relevant today.
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