Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Lie in the Dark: Dan Fesperman


Dan Fesperman's novels are geopolitical thrillers. Per his author page at Goodreads:
Dan Fesperman’s travels as a writer have taken him to thirty countries and three war zones. Lie in the Dark won the Crime Writers’ Association of Britain’s John Creasey Memorial Dagger Award for best first crime novel, The Small Boat of Great Sorrows won their Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for best thriller, and The Prisoner of Guantánamo won the Dashiell Hammett Award from the International Association of Crime Writers. He lives in Baltimore.
Lie in the Dark is a police procedural set in the midst of the siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian conflict. It describes the daily life of homicide inspector Vlado Petric as he tries to do his job. The siege has been going on for two years, and Petric's wife and child have escaped to Germany. It is a relief to Petric that they are safe, but his daughter is very young, and growing up not knowing her father. That is only one of the many ways that Petric's life is painful and depressing each and every day.

He stares out his window in the morning and watches grave diggers bury the dead.
He began the day, as always, by counting the gravediggers out his front window. There were nine this morning, moving through the snow a hundred yards away in the middle of what used to be a children's soccer field. They stopped to light cigarettes, heads bowed like mourners, the shadows of stubble faintly visible on hollowed cheeks. Then they shed their thin coats and moved apart in a ragged line. Backs bent, they began stabbing at the ground with picks and shovels.
...
Vlado had come to depend on the gravediggers' punctuality. He knew they liked to finish early, while the snipers and artillery crews of the surrounding hills were still asleep in the mist, groggy from another night in the mud with their plum brandy. By midmorning the gunners would also be stretching muscles and lighting cigarettes. Then they, too, would bend to their work, and from then until nightfall the soccer field would be safe only for the dead.
Vlado wondered sometimes why he still bothered to watch this morning ritual, yet he found its arithmetic irresistible. It was his daily census of the war. 
In Sarajevo, food is hard to get and often barely edible. People walking in the streets are vulnerable to being shot by snipers, and their homes may be shelled. Windows and walls that have been knocked out are covered with whatever materials can be found, but are really no protection from the fighting. Everyone lives in fear everyday.

And in the midst of this, Petric's job has been reduced to trivial, routine matters. The Interior Ministry’s special police have taken over investigations of all serious crimes. Then, Petric is assigned a new case, a policeman that appeared to have been killed by a sniper's bullet. The special police cannot investigate because the victim, Esmir Vitas, was the leader of their group, and they want it to appear to be a fair investigation.

After  being led in many different directions, Petric uncovers a conspiracy revolving around the theft of artistic treasures in Sarajevo, and finds that it is linked to Esmir Vitas. He puts himself in grave danger to find more information. He makes mistakes, trusting those he should not trust.

I found similarities between this book and The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters. That book is about a pre-apocalyptic event that is affecting the fabric of life in a similar way to a city under siege. There seems to be no reason to investigate murders when the future of life is so uncertain. In this case, coworkers, friends and relatives die everyday or lose their livelihoods as the city is damaged and lacks necessary supplies. Like everyone else, Petric is just surviving from day to day until this case comes along.

As many reviewers have noted, this book is as much a picture of life in a war zone as it is a mystery thriller. To be honest, I know very little of the history and background of the breakup of Yugoslavia. The author reported from Sarajevo on the Bosnian War, so I assume his depiction of this aspect of it is close to reality.

I did like this book a lot. It sounds like a depressing book, and it is very bleak. No matter what the resolution of this story is, there have been too many people irretrievably harmed by the conflict. The ending of the novel may have been a bit unrealistic, but it did not mar my enjoyment of the book at all. there are so many facets to this book.

If the topic and setting sounds interesting to you, I recommend this book. The author wrote a second book about Petric, The Small Boat of Great Sorrows. I have that book, and three stand-alone novels by Fesperman.

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Publisher:   Soho Crime, 2012 (orig. pub. 1999)
Length:       276 pages
Format:       Trade Paperback
Series:        Vlado Petric, #1
Setting:       Sarajevo
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:       I purchased my copy.

18 comments:

  1. I too have little idea about the conflict. Thanks for the fine review Tracy, I am putting this on my TBR list.

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    1. Great, Neer. It is a very good book, and I hope you find it a good read.

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  2. Tracy - This sounds like a really interesting novel just on historical and political grounds if nothing else. I'm glad you also thought the plot was well done, if bleak. I wish I knew more about the breakup of Yugoslavia too.

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    1. You are right, Margot. The book is interesting on many levels.

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  3. I haven't heard of this author, but now I'm interested: thanks, Tracy. Soho puts out such a good variety of stuff.

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    1. I agree, Rebecca. There are many authors published by Soho that I want to follow up on. And I love their book covers too.

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  4. Fantastic TracyK - not heard of this but sounds really up my street as I really admire intelligent contempoirary takes on the mystery - will definitely get this.

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    1. Great, Sergio, I hope you like it as much as I did.

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  5. PS I thinbk I have DOUBLE GAME by the same author, as yet unread, on my shelves ...

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    1. Sergio, I don't have that one, which sounds very good. I have The Prisoner Of Guantanamo, The Amateur Spy, and The Arms Maker Of Berlin... all different from this one.

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  6. Tracy, since I followed the breakup of Yugoslavia and the consequent Bosnian conflict from start till end, I'd interested in reading this book. A mystery set during the war sounds like a good read. Thanks for the review.

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    1. I found it a very good read, Prashant, and with your level of knowledge, I would like to hear what you think of it.

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  7. I think in this particular case I would rather read a non-fiction book on the subject, though this one does sound good, and sensitively done.

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    1. A non-fiction book on this would be interesting, Moira. Although I often have trouble staying with non-fiction. I have quite a few started now and have been reading them for months. On this topic, it could be depressing to read non-fiction too. I had problems reading THE THIRD REICH IN POWER and had to give up. But I would learn more about all sides. Not that this one really takes sides.

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  8. Tracy, this just sounds much too downbeat and grim for my mood this time of year. I often need cheering up as the weather changes even if in truth Autumn is always my favorite time of year. It's a conundrum. But maybe it's my age. I'm at the point where happy endings and not too many grim reminders of reality are necessary for my continued day to day. Know what I mean? But I know Dan Fesperman is a fine writer since he is often recommended by readers I respect. Yourself included.

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    1. I do know what you mean, Yvette. I was actually surprised by this book, I did not expect it to be so bleak. I don't regret reading it. But I did feel that I had to make the subject matter clear. I look forward to reading some of his other books.

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  9. Tracy, I'm looking forward to this, I will pull it out of the pile as I come across it when cataloguing. You might like Allen Mattich's books also. Glad you enjoyed it - mostly!

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    1. Col, thanks for the suggestion of Mattich. I just did a little research and I should look into his books more.

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