Lie in the Dark


Dan Fesperman


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

November 15, 2007

ie in the Dark is the first novel by Dan Fesperman. He was a journalist who spent time covering the Bosnia war, and his background shows in this fine first novel. Lie in the Dark is the story of Vlado Petric - a man serving as a homicide detective in Sarajeveo during the conflict. Vlado appreciates the dark irony of his job - trying to solve murders while every day Serbian snipers murder his fellow citizens. Nevertheless, the detective job keeps Vlado, an able-bodied middle aged man, from being sent to the front lines to battle the Serb forces .

The best part of this novel is the setting itself. Fesperman's experience in Yugoslavia during the war allows him to paint a bleak, authentic picture of the war zone. The protagonist Petric awakens in the morning to see the grave diggers outside his window. Cigarettes and food are currency, women sell their bodies to survive another day, the powerful, corrupt warlords use their force to loot and extort. Everything must be purchased from the black market. Sarajeveo is not just under seige from the Serb snipers and artillery, it also under assault by it's own criminal element.

Detective Petric is walking home one night when he hears a nearby shot. He runs to the scene and finds a dead man. But this isn't just any corpse, it is Esmir Vitas, the chief of the Ministry of Special Police. Clearly, the death was staged to appear to be just another casuality by random sniper bullet, except that Petric knows there wasn't any sniper fire - this was a murder.

At first, it appears that Vitas death will be covered up, but then Petric is assigned to the case and told to report his progress frequently to Juso Kasic, the new acting head of the Ministry of the Special Police. Kasic obviously had plenty of reasons for wanting Vitas dead, but no he tells Petric to devote his abilities to solving this crime. The menace radiating from Kasic is well done.

Petric begins his investigation, and he quickly learns that Vitas was involved in some routine smuggling crimes of meat and tobacco. Clearly, Petric was meant to discover these transgressions, but he believes there is more to the reason Vitas was murdered, so he investigates further, and starts to uncover a larger conspiracy.

Like I said, the best part of the book is the tour of Saravejeo. Petric has to interview a criminal who is now serving on the frontlines against the Serbs - which are just outside the city. So Petric has to join a nightly contingent of young man who march out at night to take their places in the trenches in exchange for food and money. In another section, Petric has to borrow a car with it's precious gallons of gas to cross over to another part of the city that is even worse off than his area.

Overall, I thought this was a pretty good first novel. I will probably pick up other books by Fesperman (I see he has written at least four others) if I see them at the library.