Detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty are asked to help unlock the secrets of a woman killed during the Bosnian war in this captivating story from acclaimed author Ausma Zehanat Khan.
An old friend from Esa’s past has reappeared in his life, reaching out to ask Esa for help solving a mystery about the woman he once loved. But before Esa can travel to Sarajevo to help his friend, he and his partner, Detective Rachel Getty, must make it through a government inquiry that will not only affect their futures on the police force, but also test the strength of their partnership. Ausma’s trademark complex characters, atmospheric writing, and intricate plotting will mesmerize fans and new readers alike.
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About the Author
AUSMA ZEHANAT KHAN holds a Ph.D. in international human rights law with a specialization in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans. She is the author of the award-winning Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty mystery series, which begins with The Unquiet Dead, as well as the critically acclaimed Khorasan Archives fantasy series. Her new crime series featuring Detective Inaya Rahman begins with Blackwater Falls. She is also a contributor to the anthologies Private Investigations, Sword Stone Table, and The Perfect Crime, and the former Editor-in-Chief of Muslim Girl magazine. A British-born Canadian and former adjunct law professor, Khan now lives in Colorado with her husband.
Read an Excerpt
A Death in Sarajevo
By Ausma Zehanat Khan
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Ausma Zehanat Khan
All rights reserved.
The canal stretched ahead of Rachel in a long, silvery loop, white banks of snow mounded on either side in crystal-edged drifts, punctuated at intervals by the stone steps that led down to the surface of the glittering ice. Lampposts lined either side of the canal, casting an eerie glow on Rachel's dark head as she swooped past, her strokes sure and steady, a force of explosive grace across the ice.
It was five in the morning, and Rachel had the Rideau Canal largely to herself. She had skated its five-mile surface twice, and now she was slowing down, cooling off as she approached the dignified shadow of the Chateau Laurier, a pale light glinting off the copper peaks of its roof. An enterprising vendor had opened his kiosk on the ice, and Rachel purchased a cup of hot chocolate to go with a bear claw, peeling off her gloves to pay him. If he thought it was unusual that Rachel was skating the Rideau Canal alone while it was still nearly dark, he kept his thoughts to himself.
Rachel thanked him and settled down on the steps to finish her early breakfast. Dawn was coming, setting fire to the rooftops as the stately lines of the Ottawa River dissolved into a patina of sterling silver and gold. It was a beautiful sight and her eyes were hungry for it. She'd been doing the same thing each morning for the past week in the capital city of Ottawa, waking early to skate the length of the canal before making her daily appearance at the parliamentary inquiry into the death of Christopher Drayton, a fugitive war criminal whose real name was Drazen Krstic.
She was desperately tired from days of questioning, but the energy required to skate the canal helped shut down her frantic worry for her partner, Inspector Esa Khattak, who was the target of the week-long inquiry.
Peter Manning, a civil servant with a résumé as long as his arm and a kindly, well-meaning disposition, was heading up the inquiry, but Rachel wasn't fooled by his cloud of silky white hair or his avuncular manner. Every question he asked was steel-edged, his line of inquiry making it clear that not only was he knowledgeable about every detail of the Drayton investigation, he was also tightening a noose around Esa Khattak's neck.
Like Rachel, Khattak testified before the inquiry day after day, accepting a barrage of questions that began with his personal background, then documented each step he'd taken to determine whether a man named Christopher Drayton had fallen to his death from the Scarborough Bluff, or been pushed, to return time and again to the matter of Khattak's professional competence, as outlined by a foiled terrorism plot in the woods of Algonquin.
A man was dead, and Esa Khattak was to blame.
A war criminal had slipped into the country and met an untimely, unpublicized end, and no one had been held accountable for it. But someone would have to be, if only to deflect attention from the failures of the Department of Justice and the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration.
Yesterday, the Minister of Immigration had outlined with tedious and prolonged specificity the background check applied to Christopher Drayton's application for immigration to Canada. As soon as he'd finished — clearly expecting to escape without reprimand, and so he had — Khattak had been recalled, his version of events tested against the Minister's.
Rachel felt intensely sorry for her partner. He had answered Peter Manning's questions with an almost outdated courtesy, his manner patient and careful without expressing the frustration he must have surely felt. While Manning had addressed Khattak in kind, others had not. And though Khattak's lawyer attempted to shut down any questioning of the death of a suspect in the Algonquin woods as irrelevant to the Drayton inquiry, every door Manning opened led him to the question of whether Esa Khattak was qualified to hold the post of Director of Community Policing given the outcome of his recent investigations.
Khattak answered every question put to him fully and frankly, setting aside only those that pertained to interagency cooperation. Of the highly sensitive anti-terrorism investigation, he chose not to speak at all. And Rachel could tell his instinct for confidentiality wasn't winning him any friends, though Manning had agreed that certain aspects of the hearing should be conducted in camera, at RCMP Superintendent Martine Killiam's request.
The mood in the parliamentary chamber was shifting against Khattak: shifting against his politeness, his quiet self-containment, his refusal to explain himself as anything other than an investigating officer when what was longed for — what the press was baying for — was the answer to an impossible question: What was a man of Muslim background doing investigating the death of a man who had murdered Bosnian Muslims? And as a separate question: How had he ended up in the woods involved in a confrontation with a man who was engaged to Khattak's own sister?
It was no longer an inquiry into how Christopher Drayton had evaded justice by seeking refuge in Canada. It was an inquiry into the loyalty and competence of a man whose own identity couldn't be reduced to categories like "Asian" or "Other."
Once law enforcement's most promising rising star, Esa Khattak was headed for a fall.
Rachel finished her coffee and slung her skates over her back, trading them for heavy fur-lined boots. She trudged the half-mile to the hotel on Elgin Street, changed into the most repressive-looking suit she owned, and knocked on Khattak's door. He answered with the same imperturbable smile, a trace of anxiety in his eyes as he registered the signs of sleeplessness on Rachel's face: the shadows under her eyes, the drooping line of her mouth.
"You're taking this too much to heart, Rachel. You don't need to worry about me. I'll be fine, and so will you."
He closed the door behind himself, and they proceeded together to the lobby, each carrying a briefcase that contained their case notes for the inquiry.
Rachel glanced at him sideways. He was as well-groomed and soberly dressed as she'd come to expect, his demeanor calm but with a new dimension of reserve he hadn't shown her before.
"I don't like these questions, sir. They're skating on the edge of all-out bigotry. It's all about who you are — it's not about Drayton, at all."
Khattak shrugged, an elegant gesture of his shoulders. It didn't fool Rachel. She saw the new lines that bracketed his mouth, and she wasn't deaf to a certain hesitation in his speech, neither of which she liked.
"They have a right to ask me what I did, Rachel. I don't take it personally."
Frustrated, Rachel tugged at his arm, guiding him to a stop.
"Why not, sir? Why are you always like this?"
He frowned down at her. "Like what, Rachel?"
"Why must you act so detached — like nothing's ever personal or bothers you, when it must? Why can't you be like the rest of us: angry and pissed off?"
Khattak smiled. In an uncharacteristic gesture, he reached for Rachel's hand and squeezed it.
"You should know that better than anyone, Rachel. You saw what I was like in the aftermath of the shooting at Algonquin. I had nothing." The fine lines of his mouth firmed. "No resolve, no resistance to the forces around me, no clarity. When I saw my sister at risk, when I had to make a choice —" A slight shudder passed over him, a haunted expression in the pale green eyes. "You know how it was, Rachel. How can you ask me that?"
"Because I'm not you, and I'm ready to explode at the way they're talking down to you. I hate it."
Khattak smiled again, and suddenly he looked younger and less burdened by the impact of days of confrontational cross-examination. He looked so much at peace with himself that for a minute Rachel didn't comprehend his sudden, forthright confession.
"I can't afford to be angry, don't you see? It's what they expect from me, it's what they're looking for, especially Coale. They want to turn me into a caricature — they'll dine on any feeling I betray like so much entertainment." His eyes met Rachel's, and for the first time there was something completely unguarded and defenseless in them. "I know it's life-and-death for me, Rachel, but why would I give that away to anyone I don't trust?"
Rachel felt a surge of warmth expand from the center of her body to her fingertips. What he was really saying was that he trusted her. She knew he didn't count her with those who'd bedeviled his career from the day he'd entered the police force, but it was good to hear him state those feelings so boldly.
She jerked her head back at the elevators that led to their rooms.
"Did you pray?" she asked, her voice gruff. "Is that how you keep your cool?"
The kindest smile she'd ever witnessed spread across Khattak's handsome face. With a wicked note in his voice, he answered. "It certainly helps. So did the hour I spent boxing in the gym before you showed up at my door. I pretend my opponent is Ciprian Coale."
Coale had been partnered with Khattak on the anti-terrorism operation, and the two men had seldom agreed on any aspect of that investigation.
Rachel was startled into an outright laugh. Khattak joined in.
But their easy camaraderie was shattered when another voice cut across their private conversation in the penetrating tones of a man accustomed to obedience.
"Get the hell away from my daughter, Khattak."
Rachel looked over her shoulder in shock.
It was retired police superintendent Don Getty, a man who was a legend in the service — a man who happened to be her father. And he'd just insulted her boss to his face.
Esa didn't step aside. His face became shuttered, but he spoke to Rachel with the same consideration he always showed her.
"Would you prefer I stayed with you, Rachel?" He spoke quietly so only she could hear. "You don't have to be afraid of him. I won't leave you on your own, unless it's what you want."
Her dark eyes wide, Rachel's face betrayed her sense of shock. Why had Khattak said that? Could he know —?
"Rachel!" her father insisted. "Come to me. I don't want to see you anywhere near that man."
Rachel swallowed, her mind leaping over her options. When she'd decided, she nudged Khattak in the direction of the door.
"I'll be fine," she muttered. "The inquiry doesn't frighten you, and my father doesn't scare me."
Khattak hesitated, but when she whispered a frantic "Please," he nodded and left her, the frown back on his face. He didn't speak to Don Getty, earning Rachel's gratitude anew.
She turned to her father, perturbed by his sudden appearance at her hotel.
"What do you want, Da? What are you doing here?"
Don Getty dropped a large leather bag to his feet. He lifted his chin and set his shoulders back — Don Getty, the man in charge: in charge of her mother, of her younger brother, Zachary, of Rachel's entire world, until now.
"I've been seeing you in the papers every day, haven't I? I've come to take you home."
"I can't go home, Da," Rachel explained. "Not yet, at least. I still have to testify. Maybe by the end of next week it will be over."
Getty thrust out his chin.
"It's over when I say it's over. This isn't a courtroom. You can't be subpoenaed to testify at a parliamentary inquiry."
Rachel's hands clutched the handle of her briefcase. She brought it before her body like a shield, watching her father's eyes narrow at the movement. Though Don Getty had never hit her, his anger intimidated her.
"It's my duty," Rachel said, adopting the tone she'd used to defuse violence in her childhood home. "As a citizen, I have to face it."
"No." Her father's steel-blue eyes were assessing her. "This is personal to you, girl. You want to save Khattak when he doesn't give a damn about you. And I'm not about to let you sink your career along with his. Get your things."
He fastened a powerful hand on her case.
"No, Da," she said with dignity. "If I don't speak to my part of the investigation into Christopher Drayton's death, Inspector Khattak doesn't stand a chance. We don't have the case file from Justice authorizing our investigation."
A tide of red colored her father's skin. Seeing it, Rachel's heart sank. She knew the familiar signs all too well. Her father wrested the case from her hands with barely controlled violence.
"You're not going to the hearing." He bit out each word. "You're getting your things and coming home with me. You've done well for yourself, and you'll find another posting. Unlike him, you're finally going places."
Rachel planted her feet and stood firm.
"Because of him, Da," she said. "Why do you think I even have a career after what happened with MacInerney? It's because of Inspector Khattak."
And when Getty would have shouldered his daughter to the door, she told him the story of a town called Waverley, and a girl named Miraj Siddiqui. She told him what Khattak had done on her behalf, and when she'd finished, she told him what she hadn't told anyone, not even the head of the parliamentary inquiry.
She told the story of that night in the woods.CHAPTER 2
Esa's thoughts were only half on the inquiry. He was looking ahead to a journey he planned to take once the parliamentary inquiry was over. He'd just received a message from an old friend in Sarajevo. However the inquiry turned out, Esa needed a break. His friend Skender had assured him of a warm welcome and a personal tour of the city, despite the snow still mantling Sarajevo's rooftops. Skender had also spoken of a mystery — a puzzle he hoped Esa would help him solve. "It's about Amira," Skender had said, referring to the woman he'd once been engaged to, a woman Esa had known. More than twenty years ago, she'd been killed during the siege of Sarajevo. Skender hadn't said much more, but his voice had been somber, the weight of his tragedy stretching across the years. And Esa was glad to help, eager for the journey, Sarajevo being just the first stop on a longer itinerary — providing the inquiry turned out as he hoped. Though he was confident in the outcome of the Drayton investigation even without the support of Tom Paley's case file, his role in the RCMP's anti-terrorism investigation wouldn't be as easy to resolve. And the missing file did trouble him at some level — who had made Tom Paley's notes on Drayton disappear just a few short weeks before the inquiry was called? He hoped it had more to do with the Department of Justice attempting to shield itself from censure and less to do with targeting him personally.
There were many familiar faces at the hearing, the galleries packed with press and members of the public. Peter Manning was someone Khattak had come to understand through a week's association. Manning wasn't an enemy, though he was predisposed to making certain assumptions about Esa. And RCMP Superintendent Killiam had been present every day, her priority being to ensure that the questioning didn't infringe on the antiterrorism operation she had authorized. But despite Killiam's impassive expression, Esa sensed her tacit support. Martine Killiam had done him a great service he'd neither anticipated nor expected. She'd intervened to prevent his sister, Ruksh, from being called to testify, calling the request an infringement of the inquiry's jurisdiction.
Which was just as well. Esa hadn't been sure what his sister would say. He felt an unaccustomed surge of bitterness: Just as the inquiry wasn't his first experience of a hostile interrogation, Ruksh wouldn't be the first woman to betray his trust.
What if Ruksh had called him to account? What if she had placed the blame for the outcome of the anti-terrorism investigation squarely on his shoulders? He admitted his judgment was suspect, and he was no longer certain of his own family.
There had been a fraught conversation in their mother's home, with their mother acting as an intermediary. The memory of it still pained him. Her hair pulled back, her face bare of makeup, Ruksh had looked immensely young and vulnerable, while he'd found himself backed into a corner — unable to speak about a confidential case, unable to reassure her in the way she demanded. She'd lashed out at him, asking him to leave the house, asking him to leave her alone — blaming him because she could blame him, knowing he wouldn't retaliate.
He'd looked into his mother's kind eyes with something approaching despair.
And when his mother had gone to him and taken his hand, Ruksh had descended into an overwrought fury, flinging accusations at him, a spectacle their mother had quickly put an end to. Very much on her dignity, she'd sent Ruksh, a grown woman, to her room.
"You will not speak to your brother in this manner in my house."
"You always take his side. You've always loved him more."
Angeza Khattak had wordlessly shaken her head, the gesture enough to silence Ruksh.
When she'd gone, Esa's mother said to him, "If anything had happened to you while attempting to save that foolish girl, I'd never have forgiven her."
Esa had taken his mother's hand and kissed her cheek.
"Don't say that, Ami. Forgiveness is all we have in this life. It's what makes us whole."
Excerpted from A Death in Sarajevo by Ausma Zehanat Khan. Copyright © 2017 Ausma Zehanat Khan. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
PART ONE: OTTAWA,
PART TWO: SARAJEVO,
AMONG THE RUINS Excerpt,
About the Author,
Also by Ausma Khan,