MysteryPeople Review: THE UNQUIET DEAD, by Ausma Zehanat Khan

the unquiet dead

Post by Molly

Ausma Zehanat Khan is a remarkable woman. She has a PhD in International Human Rights Law. She has traveled the world, taught at several universities, and worked as Editor in Chief of Muslim Girl Magazine. And now, she has written a detective novel. Not just any detective novel – Khan’s debut, The Unquiet Dead, synthesizes all her previous subjects of research and life experience into a moody and damning exploration of the legacy of war crimes and the experience of Muslims in Canada. The novel also explores child welfare, the history of Spain before the Reconquista, workplace romance, the enmity of old friends, and much, much more. The Unquiet Dead, like its author, is difficult to define in a single sentence.

The Unquiet Dead begins with an interrupted prayer. Detective Esa Khattack is head of Canada’s Community Policing Section, or CPS, a unit designed to handle cases sensitive to minority populations. He gets a call mid-devotion and goes to meet up with his partner, Rachel Getty, to investigate a suspicious death in a wealthy enclave.

Christopher Drayton, a wealthy retired businessman, has fallen to his death on the treacherous bluffs behind his garden. As Khattack and Getty begin their investigation into Drayton’s carefully constructed life, they find evidence that Drayton was concealing his true identity as a war criminal responsible for heinous and genocidal actions in Bosnia. But Drayton was none too popular in his assumed identity either, and Khattack and Getty must contend with an ever-growing number of suspects on their list, along with the nagging suspicion that Drayton’s death may have been an accident, as their investigation becomes increasingly complex.

Khattack and Getty have their own personal demons as well, and Ausma Zehanat Khan does an excellent job weaving her detectives’ personal stories in and out of the main narrative of investigation. Getty and Khattack work well together – Getty’s bluntness, pragmatism, and distaste for fashion mixes well with Khattack’s urbane and elegant demeanor; echoes of Holmes and Watson sound throughout the novel in the detectives’ interactions. They also serve as a cautious support network for each other; reluctant to share details of personal struggles for fear of damaging their working relationship, they nevertheless act with loyalty and support towards the other whenever possible.

Despite her well-realized main characters, Khan jumps from point-of-view to point-of-view, showcasing both her extraordinary empathy and her gift for psychological insights. Much of the novel draws on her research into wartime atrocities in Bosnia, and her novel contains several heart-breaking excursions into the Bosnian experience. Khan has done what many writers have done before her – she has learned the history of a people targeted for their identity, dehumanized, and massacred, and she has put the medium of fiction to work on their behalf, restoring individualism, humanity, and unique experiences, and creating an opportunity for readers to empathize with, not otherize, the experience of Bosnian Muslims.

Ausma Zahanat Khan taps into something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time – the power of literature to bear witness to human suffering, to condemn those who perpetuate it and those who do nothing, and to help readers come to terms with a past whose effects will not cease to linger, and should not. Fiction may be an escape for many. It certainly is not the same thing as reporting a physical truth. But fiction, unlike history, unlike statistics, unlike any fact, can bring to life voices that have been silenced – in other words, fiction can tell us an emotional truth. Fiction can turn a number back into a human being. Fiction can transform a buried and forgotten past into a haunting present. Ausma Zahanat Khan understands this, and that is why The Unquiet Dead is a stunning novel, a damning critique, and hopefully, the start to a long writing career.

Copies of The Unquiet Dead are available on our shelves and via

Murder In The Afternoon Book Club to Discuss: DEATH IN THE ANDES, by Mario Vargas Llosa

death in the andes

On Tuesday, January 20th, at 2 pm on BookPeople’s third floor, the Murder in the Afternoon Book Club will discuss Mario Vargas Llosa’s literary noir Death in the Andes. Mario Vargas Llosa is one of Peru’s most renowned writers and recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize. His novels are wide-ranging, and Death in the Andes is perhaps his only book that can be considered a detective novel (although he certainly plays with the genre’s conventions). Other subjects he has written about include the slow destruction of an apocalyptic cult in The War of the End of the World, the life of Paul Gauguin in Tahiti in The Way to Paradise, and many other wide-ranging narratives drawn from his native Peru and all over the globe.

Death in the Andes takes place in the early 90s, written at the height of Shining Path activity (a Maoist guerilla insurgent group based in the Andes). The book is set in a traveling camp of construction workers building a road increasingly doomed to incompletion by avalanches and Shining Path attacks.

Two civil guardsmen are all that stand between the Shining Path and the construction site, and given their low numbers, fulfill a largely symbolic role. The Shining Path could show up at any moment and murder them without a thought, and so the two men spend the book talking about love and waiting to die. One guardsman cares only for his lost love, a prostitute named Mercedes, while the other allows himself to be consumed by his own homophobia and his investigation into the disappearances of three souls from the camp – an albino, a mute, and a disgraced ex-mayor.

The couple who own the only cantina in town may have the answer to the disappearances. The husband and wife practice magic, reading fortunes in coca leaves and palms, and hold the keys to all the gossip in town through their monopoly over the town’s drinking. Through the civil guards’ obsessions, the reader is given a layered portrait of Peruvian tradition, history, conflict, paranoia, sacrifice, rituals, and magic of all kinds.

The events of Death in the Andes occur in one of the most extreme environments in the world, and in the atmosphere of a near-total government collapse. The characters are paralyzed by suspicion, obsession, paranoia, and ignorance, and moved to action by ancient traditions, liquid courage, and dangerous mystical forces. Llosa’s world is a world on the precipice, literally and figuratively; his characters cry out in misery and have no solutions to their predicament. At long last, some of them do find answers, but no solutions.

Death in the Andes has no heroes, no villains (except, perhaps, for the Shining Path ideologues); only humans, fighting each other, judging each other, loving each other, and killing each other. The innocent suffer most, but hardly anyone in Llosa’s world is a true innocent. Many characters are condemned by both the Shining Path forces and the military, and that category includes anyone who wants to have a little fun. This is the ultimate book about being between a rock and a hard place, and not just because of its mountain setting.


The Murder in the Afternoon Book Club meets the third Tuesday of each month at 2 pm. Please join us Tuesday, January 20th, as we discuss Death in the Andes, by Mario Vargas Llosa. Copies are available on our shelves and via All book clubs are free and open to the public, and book club members receive 10% off of their purchase of their monthly book club title.

Shotgun Blast From The Past: HARDCASE, by Dan Simmons


Mulholland Books is doing a great service by bringing back Dan Simmons’ books featuring ex-con PI Joe Kurtz. The first book, Hardcase, came out last fall. it’s a perfect title in so many ways, introducing you to one of the toughest tough guys to hit the page.

The story begins with Joe’s release from an eleven year stretch for murdering a rapist who killed his partner. He goes directly to Don Byron of the Farino mob. Joe uses the fact that he’s been protecting the don’s son in prison to get a job. The don hires him to  find their missing accountant, presumed dead. The search puts him in the middle of a mob war and a battle within the Farino Family itself.

The book is hard boiled heaven. Joe Kurtz is an uncompromising hero in the mold of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer and Richard Stark’s Parker (It’s alluded to later in the series that he’s Parker’s son.) Whether blasting away at bad men or bedding badder women, Kurtz does it with an uncanny mix of cool and fervor. Simmons is able to give him real emotion without being emotional and creating a believable world around him that avoids the story and style from skirting parody. If there is even a whisper of sentimentality it is quickly hushed.

It is obvious that Simmons is a fan of the genre, creating a homage that has its own original voice.The other two Joe Kurtz books, Hard Freeze and Hard As Nails, will be out this year. Here’s hoping Simmons can conjure up some more dark alleys for Joe to go down.

Hardcase is available on our shelves and via Hard Freeze and Hard as Nails are available for pre-order on our website.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Robert Knott



Robert Knott’s life as a screenwriter and actor led him to adapting Robert B Parker’s Appaloosa into a script with the film’s star and director Ed Harris. When Robert B. Parker passed, his estate asked Mr. Knott to continue the adventures of Southwest gunfighters Hitch & Cole. His third continuation of the series, The Bridge, has our heroes going up against some vicious killers trying to sabotage the construction of a bridge. They must also deal with a group of traveling performers who have stopped in Appaloosa.

We caught up with Bob before he joins us Wednesday, January 14th, at 7 pm, with Mike Blakely, for a discussion of writing about the west. We asked him a few questions about writing the new book and taking over Parker’s characters.

MysteryPeople: The Bridge is aptly titled because much of it deals with the construction and destruction of a bridge. What drew you to making that the central plot point?

Robert Knott: Changes in culture, evolution, innovation I find interesting…Transportation, communication, commerce in the West – the new frontier – is fascinating.

MP: There’s a group of traveling performers in the story… I know your parents were traveling musicians. Did you draw from any of their experiences?

RK: Sure, I had very colorful characters in my family, and knowing that world makes it easy to conceptualize…I’ve written screenplays and theater pieces that deal with this way of life, so I felt this approach would be fun and entertaining.

MP: One thing you bring to this series is a richer flavor of authenticity. How do you go about research when starting a new book?

RK: I love research! I know a lot of writers don’t, but I really like to get into the moment to moment reality…What characters have to deal with, and how they do it, puts us int he moment as well.

MP: One of the the things the series is known for is the laconic back and forth dialogue between Cole and Hitch. How much work does it take to get that cadence right?

RK: Not much – I grew up in Oklahoma and worked in the oilfields for many years, and, well, this laconic communication is pretty much second nature there.

MP: What have you learned about Hitch and Cole in writing the three books that you didn’t know about them when writing the script to Appaloosa?

RK: Well, like all of us, I think the more we travel, the more encounters we have, the more we have seen and experienced, the more we are affected. And so Hitch and Cole gain wisdom along the way.

Copies of  The Bridge are available on our shelves and via Robert Knott and Mike Blakely will be speaking and signing their latest Western-themed novels on Wednesday, January 14, at 7 pm on BookPeople’s second floor. The speaking portion of the event is free and open to the public. You must purchase a copy of the authors’ latest to get it signed. Can’t make it to the event, but still want a signed copy? You can buy a copy of the event book ahead of time and get it signed by the author! 

The Hard Word Book Club To Discuss L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, by James Ellroy


This January’s Hard Word Book Club discussion will cover the one crime novel that made BookPeople’s top 100 list, James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential. The third book in his L.A. Quartet, it stands by itself as a noir masterpiece. Those only familiar with the movie have a lot to learn about the rest of the story.

The novel tracks three compromised men in the LAPD during the fifties, brought together through a police brutality scandal, a bloody massacre at a coffee shop, and a serial killer on the prowl. When condensing the story for film, the main plot was removed and many of the characters and relationships were removed, as well as the book’s ending, muting its themes on male identity and brutality. Ellroy took the idea of the hard boiled novel and made it epic.

We will be discussing L.A. Confidential on Wednesday, January 20th, at 7PM on our third floor. The book is 10% off to those who attend. It’s close to five hundred pages so get cracking.

For February we will be discussing Trouble In The Heartland, a collection of short crime fiction inspired by Bruce Springsteen songs, with editor Joe Clifford calling in.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Mike Blakely

Mike Blakely is an accomplished traditional western singer/songwriter as well as an award winning novelist. His latest, A Song To Die For, uses the Austin music scene of the Seventies as its backdrop. Vietnam vet guitar picker Creed Mason is in the midst of building a band for the comeback of  country legend Luster Burnett when he gets in between a Texas Ranger and a mob hitman as they prepare for a showdown. It’s a fun, rollicking tale that oozes with the twang, humidity, and barbecue of its place and time.

MysteryPeople: This is your second book dealing with the Texas outlaw music scene of the Seventies. What drew you to that era?

Mike Blakely: I began performing professionally in a garage band in 1976 at the age of 18, so I experienced the real deal firsthand.   I was able to use quite a few of my own experiences in A Song To Die For.

MP: Are Creed and Luster based on any particular performers of that period?

MB: Both are composite characters based on some famous legends and some lesser-known artists I have worked with over the years.

MP:This is also the fourth book you’ve written with a musician as the central character. What do you want to get across to readers about those folks?

MB: The musically-inclined characters I create are all “lifers.”  They know they can never completely give up making music.  I hope my readers understand through these characters that it’s a tough life and a hard way to make a living but also an endeavor full of occasional rewards and moments of deep satisfaction.

MP: What do most writers get wrong about the music life?

MB: I’m not sure there’s a way to get it wrong in a business where anything can happen.  There are so many paths a musician can take. Some get lucky breaks early on and ride the wave of success for decades.  Others who are just as talented may work for years without much notice.  The music scene can be just as wholesome or as seedy as an individual wants to make it.  It can be a wild romp or a methodical climb to success.  It can be all about the money or all about the music or anywhere in between.

MP: How do you prepare to write a story set in the past?

MB: It starts with historical research, of course.  I read about the era. I read things written during that era.  I seek out objects from the time period so I know how they look and feel.  Every time I sit down to write, I time travel in my mind to the era I’ve chosen.  When writing, I try to assume nothing.  I strive to verify that every detail I insert into the story is authentic.

MP: Do you think the musician influences the novelist side of you and vice versa?

MB: The two disciplines are very different, but they do influence each other.  I’ve written songs about some of my characters in my novels. I have also had characters from my songs find their way into my books. There’s no reason to keep the two creative endeavors completely separated though they are very different in many ways.  When I finish a novel, it may take a couple of years to start getting feedback from the public.  But I can write a song in the morning and play it for an audience that night.

Mike will be joining author Robert Knott on January 14th to talk about writing western fiction and their latest novels (Mike will also be performing a couple of his songs), but we got a head discussing the book and the music life.

MysteryPeople Review: THE BRIDGE, by Robert Knott

the bridge

Robert Knott and Mike Blakely join us Tuesday, January 14, at 7 pm, for an evening of Country-Western flavored crime fiction. Robert Knott will be presenting his novel The Bridgeand Mike Blakely will present his latest novel, A Song To Die For.

Robert B. Parker helped bring the western into the twenty-first century with  his Southwestern gunfighters Everett Hitch and Virgil Cole.  The books fit in the classic tradition of the genre while subtlety subverting it enough for a fresh take. The Bridge, Robert Knott’s third continuation in the series, proves the lawmen still have a lot of territory to ride.

The plot carries strong elements of a thriller, opening with a group of mysterious night riders creating murder and mayhem at a camp building a bridge along the Rio Blanco river. Since Appaloosa is the nearest town, Hitch and Cole are drawn into uncovering what is going on and putting their guns up against one of their most formidable opponents. They also have to deal with a group of traveling performers that come to town that include a beautiful fortune teller that Hitch gets involved with.

Knott knows just the right amount of emotion to bring to the story. Being an actor and script writer, he knows what’s not on the page is just as important as what is. He uses humor and the laconic nature of their friendship to express how his characters feel. He also gives them a group of villains that put them more on edge.

The Bridge gives us everything we love about the Hitch & Cole series, including the wonderful dry dialogue and the bond of two men who have had each others’ back in years of violent situations. Knott delivers on these and goes deeper in the authenticity of period and the characterization of the two. The two gunmen are in good hands.

Copies of the above listed books are available on our shelves and via

MysteryPeople Q&A with Brad Taylor

Brad Taylor’s latest Taskforce novel, No Fortunate Son, has the leads Pike Logan and Jennifer Cahill kicked out of the secret military team, but called into action when several family members of government power players are kidnapped by a group with a mysterious agenda. Brad will be joining us again on January 7th at 7 pm and will be speaking and signing his new book. He was kind enough to answer a few questions ahead of time.

MysteryPeople: What made you decide to fire Pike and Cahill at the beginning of the story?

Brad Taylor: While the books are each stand-alone, they live in a universe I’ve created.  Pike went a little nuts in Days of Rage, basically telling the Taskforce to screw off while he executed his own agenda.  That agenda ended up saving a lot of lives, but in the real world, it would have repercussions.  It would have been disingenuous of me to completely forget the actions in the previous book when starting this one.  While the Taskforce and the Oversight Council are both fictitious, I’ve worked real world operations in this arena, and that activity would not go unchallenged.  It seemed to be the natural evolution of what would happen.

MP: What kind of challenges did it present you as a writer?

BT: Honestly, not a whole lot.  I just took what the “reality” was and worked it from there.  It made writing a little difficult in places because I would have really liked to use some Taskforce assets, but I (Pike and Jennifer) didn’t have them, so I had to do a little extra research to figure out what they COULD use.  It’s really nothing more than what happens in the real world.  People see Hollywood movies and think Operators have this giant canvas of capability – and they do – but sometimes you work with nothing, wondering why someone didn’t think ahead.

MP: I really loved the banter between Cahill and Pike. Other than extra fire power, what does she provide for Pike in the books?

BT: Originally, she was Pike’s moral compass, because his was a little broken, but she (and he) are starting to grow beyond that now.  I continually strive to show the evolution of the characters, and she’s definitely the one who changes in No Fortunate Son.  It’s a little chauvinistic to say “what does she bring Pike in the books”, because – if anything – half the time she’s solving the problem all on her own. I sometimes get comments about how I’d created her for “the female reader”, and I always chuckle.  Far from writing for a specific demographic, I had no idea I’d even be published.  I just wrote what I thought I’d like to read, and Jennifer was in it from the start.  My publisher calls the series “Pike Logan Thrillers”, but in my mind, it has always been Pike and Jennifer.  Pike brings as much to her as she does to him.

MP: These are some of your best villains. How did they come about?

BT: The nugget for the manuscript actually came about because of the disappearance of Bowe Bergdahl.  We’d been trying to recover him since 2009, putting in significant effort, and he was basically a nobody – with a serious cloud over his head as to why he’d gone missing.  I’d wondered what would happen if someone connected to the political establishment had been taken.  After all, a host of political elites have or had family in the military including our own vice president’s son, Senator John McCain’s son and Governor Nikki Haley’s husband.  As a starting point, I wanted to move away from Islamic terrorism.  I’ve studied the phenomena of terrorism for most of my adult life, and before the rise of al Qaida, ISIS, and others, there was the IRA.  I decided to go that route for a change of venue.  It took some work figuring out what they were doing in the modern landscape, but I think it was worth it.

MP: This book is probably my favorite of the series because the situation creates a grittier street level story reminiscent of a private eye novel. I know you’re a fan of crime novelists like Robert Crais. Would you like to try your hand at writing something more along those lines?

BT: You really hit the nail on the head.  I love a good crime story, and I think that infuses my writing more than I care to admit.  It’s just fun to read – and I’m a reader before I’m a writer.  As for trying my hand more along those lines, I think that’s what I’m doing.  Why can’t a counter-terrorism force do the same thing?  They aren’t chasing a bank robber, but they ARE chasing a serial killer in the form of a terrorist.  Truthfully, that’s exactly what they do anyway.  A roadside bomb goes off, and four soldiers are killed.  The pieces of the bomb are evacuated, and a signature is found from a specific bomb-maker.  The explosives used have a signature that identifies where it came from.  Special operations command uses all of this to target the bomb maker.  It’s not a crime story with CSI from Miami, but it IS a crime story, and I enjoy writing it as such.

MP: As someone who spent much of his life in the military and now writes about it, what do you want your readers to take away about those in the service? 

BT: I guess the biggest thing would be that they’re human, and have human emotions.  Too often Special Forces guys are portrayed as robots, making decisions that are either always correct, or have no impact on the soldier.  Combat is not a clean-cut thing, and the enemy gets a vote.  Soldiers make decisions with the ultimate stake on the line – someone’s life – and they have to decide in the span of time it takes a rifle to cycle a round.  Sometimes that decision is based on their own men’s survival, and sometimes it’s based on a perceived threat that may or may not be real, with a civilian’s life potentially in the balance.  The decision is made, and there is an outcome.  Unfortunately, it isn’t Hollywood.  It’s real life, and sometimes that decision is wrong.  The men and women in the arena have to live with that decision for the rest of their lives. It’s not a video game with a do-over, and I try to show that in my writing.  Pike’s not perfect, and neither are the men he serves with, but they damn sure try to be.  And that’s all we can ask of them.

Copies of No Fortunate Son are available on our shelves and via Brad Taylor joins us Wednesday, January 7, at 7 pm, on BookPeople’s 2nd floor. If you can’t make it to the event, you can pre-order a signed copy of his latest – just go to the event page and we’ll tell you all about it.

Three Picks for January

Here are three new releases from some of our favorite authors to herald in the New Year. With such good reads to start out the year, 2015 is sure to be full of many more top notch mysteries.


the martini shot

Martini Shot by George Pelecanos

Martini Shot is a collection of the short work of D.C. crime writer George Pelecanos, including a new novella dealing with the TV and film business the collection is named after. Everything great about modern hard-boiled writing is encapsulated by the work of Pelecanos.

dead red  Dead Red by Tim O’Mara

High school teacher Ray Donne is pulled into his policeman past when an ex-cop friend is murdered in front of him inside a cab. To find the killer he has to team up with his shady former partner. The best book in an already great series.


mr kiss and tell   Mr. Kiss And Tell by Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham

The second Veronica Mars book has the Neptune private eye looking into an assault in a ritzy hotel where both staff and victim can’t be trusted. Rob Thomas will be January 30th, at 7 pm to speak and sign. Jennifer Graham will join the Seven Percent Book Club February 2nd, at 7 pm, in discussing this fantastic addition to the series.

You can find copies of the books listed above on our shelves and via

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: THE BISHOP’S WIFE, by Mette Ivie Harrison

bishops wife

Mette Ivie Harrison’s The Bishop’s Wife is the most talked-about mystery of 2015. The novel gives us an insider’s perspective of The Mormon Church with a story loosely based on a true crime connected with a Utah temple, a fact which has already brought the novel considerable attention. The Bishop’s Wife also shows the author’s acute understanding of faith, family, and female position in Mormon culture and wider society.

The title character is Linda Wallheim, the mother of three grown boys and wife of a Mormon bishop in a small Utah town. One night a temple member, Jared Helm, shows up with his daughter, Kelly, in the middle of the night with a story of how his wife took off. When holes start to appear in that story, the temple and community are drawn into a plot of sex, dark obsessions, extreme beliefs, and murder that Linda finds herself in the middle of.

Harrison has created an intriguing lead with Linda. It’s her skill as mother, dealing with Kelly, that allows her to see the events from a perspective others don’t. This aspect is given emotional depth due to the fact that Linda lost her only daughter during childbirth. Harrison deftly plays with both dialogue and interior thought to portray a character who feels she can’t always speak her mind, even though she has a lot to say.

The Bishop’s Wife is a great mystery to bring in the new year. The plot engages the reader, and the story takes a very human look at as American subculture. It is definitely worth all the talk.

Copies of The Bishop’s Wife are available on our shelves and via