Lie In The Dark by Dan FespermanLie In The Dark by Dan Fesperman

Lie In The Dark

byDan Fesperman

Paperback | March 6, 2012

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Vlado Petric is a homicide investigator in war-torn Sarajevo. When he encounters an unidentified body near “sniper alley,” he realizes that it is the body of Esmir Vitas, chief of the Interior Ministry’s special police, and that Vitas has been killed not by any sniper’s aim but by a bullet fired at almost pointblank range. Searching for the killer in this “city of murderers,” Petric finds himself drawn into a conspiracy, the scope of which goes beyond anything he could possibly have imagined.

Lie in the Dark brilliantly renders the fragmented society and underworld of Sarajevo at war—the freelancing gangsters, guilty bystanders, the drop-in foreign correspondents, and the bureaucrats frightened for their jobs and very lives. It weaves through this torn cityscape the alienation and terror of one man’s desperate and deadly pursuit of bad people in an even worse place.
Dan Fesperman, a former foreign correspondent for The Baltimore Sun, is the author of ten novels of international intrigue. His books have won a Dashiell Hammett Award for best novel and two Dagger awards from the Crime Writers Association.
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Title:Lie In The DarkFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:288 pages, 7.5 × 5 × 0.8 inShipping dimensions:7.5 × 5 × 0.8 inPublished:March 6, 2012Publisher:Soho PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1616950641

ISBN - 13:9781616950644

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Chapter  1 He began the day, as always, by counting the gravediggers outhis front window. There were nine this morning, moving throughthe snow a hundred yards away in the middle of what used to be achildren’s soccer field. They stopped to light cigarettes, headsbowed like mourners, the shadows of stubble faintly visible on hollowedcheeks. Then they shed their thin coats and moved apart in aragged line. Backs bent, they began stabbing at the ground withpicks and shovels.They moved slowly at first, working the cold and sleepiness out ofcreaky joints. But Vlado Petric was in no hurry. He’d watched oftenenough to know what came next.Soon brown gashes of mud would take shape at their feet. Then,as the men warmed to their task, the gashes would expand into neatrectangles, and as the rectangles deepened the gravediggers woulddisappear into the earth. Within an hour only their heads would bevisible. Then Vlado would leave his apartment to walk to workthrough the streets of Sarajevo.Vlado had come to depend on the gravediggers’ punctuality. Heknew they liked to finish early, while the snipers and artillery crewsof the surrounding hills were still asleep in the mist, groggy fromanother night in the mud with their plum brandy. By midmorning thegunners would also be stretching muscles and lighting cigarettes.Then they, too, would bend to their work, and from then until nightfallthe soccer field would be safe only for the dead.Vlado wondered sometimes why he still bothered to watch thismorning ritual, yet he found its arithmetic irresistible. It was his dailycensus of the war. As the holes took shape they totted up the day’saccount like the black beads of an abacus. Large crowds inevitablyfollowed a day of heavy shelling, or one of the sad little hillsideoffensives that rattled distantly like a broken toy. On one busy morninghe’d counted thirty-four men at work, checking twice to makesure as they weaved and crossed, dirt flying as if from a series ofsmall explosions. The vapors rising from their sweat and cigaretteshad poured into the sky like the smoke of a small factory.Lately, however, there had been layoffs and shorter hours. Today’screw of nine rendered a judgment of poor aim and low ammunitionon the previous day. In winter the war always lost steam.One might also call Vlado’s interest professional. Sometimes hisown workday took shape out on the field, in graves for those claimednot by snipers, explosions, illness, or old age. Vlado was a homicideinvestigator for the local police, and still gainfully if ponderouslyemployed.It was an occupation good for a few bitter laughs with friends,amused to find small-time killing still worthy of attention after twentyonemonths of war. To them, Vlado’s task was that of a plumber fixingleaky toilets in the middle of a flood, an auto mechanic patchingtires while the engine burned to a cinder. Why bother, they wouldask. Why not just leave it all until the end of the war. By then all yoursuspects will be dead anyway.Invariably he would reply with a muttering chuckle, eyes lowered,in the time-honored humility of all who must answer for makingtheir living from the dead. Then he would allow as how, yes, theywere probably right. What a fool he was. Laughs all around. Haveanother one on me, gentlemen.So they would drink to his folly, someone’s bottle of rancid homebrewpassed from hand to hand, and then they would move on toother subjects—soccer, or women, or the war. Always, eventually,the war. But he would linger a moment with his thoughts. No, theywere not right at all, he would reassure himself. The same two motivationswhich had kept him going before the war could still sustainhim. Or at least he hoped they could.One was the small, slender promise that beckons to all homicidedetectives—that someday, something worthy and noble wouldcome of his work. For the clever and the persistent, perhaps somethinglarger lurked behind the daily body count. In the way that anepidemiologist knows that a single autopsy can provide the key toa pandemic, Vlado clung to a belief that, now and then, one murderoffered a portal to machinations far greater than the pulling of atrigger or the plunging of a blade.But could this still be true in wartime? And here the doubts threatenedto stop him cold, so he hastily moved on to reason numbertwo—the puzzle of motive, diagramming the inner levers and flywheelsdriving the machinery of rage. Here again, the war had muddledthe calculations. Now the mechanisms all seemed increasinglypredictable, guided by remote control from the big guns in the hills.Each act shook to their reverberations. Every moment of passionsprang from two years of misery.Yet Vlado couldn’t help but marvel at the enduring popularity ofmurder. He knew from his history texts what war was supposed todo to people. In Stalingrad they ate rats and burned furniture to staywarm, but they stuck together. Even in London, fat and soft London,suicides dropped and mental health soared. But now he wondered ifit hadn’t all been some great warm lie of wartime propaganda.Because, if anything, people succumbed more easily now to the passionsthat had always done them in. And as the siege grumbled on,spurned lovers still shot each other naked and dead, drunks stabbedother drunks for a bottle, and gamblers died as ever for their debts.The opportunities for such killings had never been richer.There were weapons everywhere—battered models from Iran andAfghanistan with ammunition clips curling like bananas, sleek Belgianautomatics from the tidy gunshops of Switzerland, ancient andhulking old Tommies from God-knows-where, and every cheapKalashnikov ripoff ever made in the Eastern Bloc. The hills of oldYugoslavia had been overrun at last by the arms of the Warsaw Pactin a way the late, great Tito had never envisioned.In moments when the war lagged, full employment for theseweapons was guaranteed by the smugglers and black marketeers,too numerous to count. They darted about in their own war of attrition,the cheated in vengeful pursuit of the cheating. And withnowhere to run but the deadly noose of the hills, the chase was usuallyshort and decisive.Even when both of Vlado’s reasons for justifying continuedemployment faltered, he had a worthy fallback: The job kept him outof the army. It was no small accomplishment these days, when evenyoung boys in muddy jeans and flannel shirts trooped uphill nightlyto the front.That was the thought that always dragged him from his windowon his blackest mornings, out onto the walkway of the dreary blockof flats perched above the soccer field.Had the gravediggers ever paused to gaze back on these mornings,they would have made out the thin shape of a man in his earlythirties, draped in dark clothes. Slender to begin with, Vlado hadbeen further narrowed by the diet of wartime until his deep browneyes were almost spectral in their sockets. A face once quick to smilewas now guarded, uncertain. A small crease above the bridge of hisnose had deepened and dug in, setting itself up as the new, solemnmaster of the laugh lines crinkling around his eyes. His black hairwas stiff, clipped short and uneven by his own hand with a bluntpair of children’s scissors, receding ever more rapidly at the crownand temples. The only holdover from before the war was his voice,flowing out deep and soft, still the comfortable sort of baritone thatbeckons one into a warm, smoky room of old friends.Behind him, in the small living room and kitchen, was all thatremained of Vlado’s prewar world. For more than a year and a halfhis wife and daughter had been gone, evacuated to Germany. Thedoor to his daughter’s room hadn’t been opened for weeks, nor hadthe door to his and his wife’s old bedroom. He had gradually drawnhis possessions and his existence together, partly because it kept himaway from the windows more exposed to sniper and artillery fire,and partly to conserve the precious light and heat from his illegal gashookups, which burned fitfully and low under dwindling pressure.But it was also his way of burrowing in for the duration, of tendinghis own weak flame against the forces that could blow it out.In approaching each day he had developed a keen sense of pace,of constant adjustment. Those who burned too brightly, he knewfrom watching, never lasted. They were the ones whose passionseventually led them running into free-fire zones, screaming either inmadness or in a final outpouring of impotent rage.But let your flame turn too low, fail to coax it along, and youended up at the other extreme, spent and empty. You saw them indoorways, or hunched at the back of cafés, greasy-haired, staringvacantly, clothes in tatters. They never stopped retreating, ending upat the bottom of either a bottle or a grave.Vlado was a Catholic, which meant he was classified as a Croat,something he’d never much thought about nor wanted to until thepast two years. The precision of the label was questionable, givenhis mixed parentage. His father had been Muslim, his mother Catholic.She’d made sure he was baptized, though she’d never beenmuch for church herself. Then she’d spent years dragging him offto religious instruction and holiday mass only to see her efforts goto waste.Now, one’s ethnic background seemed to be the first thing everyonein an official position wanted to know. Your answer could getyou killed in some places, promoted in others.It was easy enough information to find out, listed right there onyour identification papers. The ethnic labels were remnants of thevarious competing empires that had clashed in these hills for centuries.The Ottoman Turks had run the show for a while, bringing Islamand the sultan’s bureaucracy, only to run up against the Austrians,who brought Catholicism, impeccable record keeping, and streetsladen with their layer-cake architecture.From the east there had always been the Russians to worry about,sharing their Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Cyrillic alphabet withthe Serbs. Then the Nazis had come along and overwhelmed everyone,linking up just long enough with nationalist Croats, the Ustasha,to lay waste to a few hundred thousand Serbs. Sometimes the Muslimshad joined in the killing. Sometimes they’d been among the victims.But all sides were supposedly forgiven under the new mantle ofthe eventual victor, the postwar communist regime of Marshal Tito.Tito proceeded to hold the fractious sides together for nearly half acentury, chiefly by acting as if no one had ever hated each other tobegin with. He banished all talk of ethnic nationalism and mistrust,blithely announcing that henceforth brotherhood would prevail.It almost worked.But when Tito died, the ethnic zealots rediscovered their voices,and the Serbs crowed the loudest. Tales of past massacres, kept alivethrough the decades around family tables, emerged shiny and refurbished.The old fears were coaxed out of cellars and attics, renourishedby a new diet of ethnic propaganda. Out came the old labels ofmistrust. If you were a Croat, that must mean you were Ustasha. AnySerb was a Chetnik. A Muslim? No better than a Turk. When thingsbegan to fall apart, they collapsed in a hurry.The Serbs, holding the bulk of the army, immediately and mercilesslyseized the upper hand, and Tito’s ultimate failure was now evidentin the lines of fire dividing the city. Standing on every surroundinghill were the Serb guns and trenches, and an army determined tosqueeze Sarajevo until it became their own. They also held much ofthe ground within the city on the far bank of the Miljacka River, whichcurled through the town from east to west like a crooked spine.Trapped along with Vlado on the north bank, in the old city center,were two hundred thousand people, mostly Muslim, occasionallyCroat and very occasionally Serb. But, as with Vlado, the labelswere often ambiguous. Mixed marriages accounted for a quarter ofthe population, which only further enraged the Serbs. Bohemianlittle Sarajevo, too clever for her own good, was paying the pricefor years of incestuous pleasure. Now the Serbs seemed bent onleveling the city if they couldn’t capture it, taking it apart brick bybrick, person by person.Vlado had gone his entire life without really considering what itmeant to be a Catholic, and he saw no reason to start now. He’dstepped into a church only three times in the past twelve years, twicefor funerals, and certainly not at all for his marriage, a civil ceremonyin which he’d wed the Muslim daughter of a Serb mother.His only other trip to church had been his most recent, to investigatethe murder of a priest found dead in a confessional. A jealoushusband had shot the priest after finding a boxful of passionate letterson parish stationery in his wife’s closet. The husband hadwalked into the booth, sat down, fired twice through the latticedpartition, then turned the gun on himself. Vlado had felt cheated bythe suicide. He’d always wanted to know if there had been anyfinal conversation. He wondered if either side had offered absolutionbefore the gun had passed judgement on both. Both had madeadequate penance in the end, by Vlado’s way of thinking, nevermind what the Church thought.Had the gravediggers looked Vlado’s way on this morning theymight also have seen a cup of coffee in his hand. At $20 a pound ona salary of one dollar a month, often paid in cigarettes, it was nosmall luxury. Such was the state of the local currency and the blackmarket that ruled the city.He smiled to himself with a slight flush of embarrassment recallinghow he’d acquired the coffee the day before. He had begged for it,really. Not overtly, but in an obvious enough way, having learnedhow to go about such things.A British journalist had telephoned for an interview and Vlado hadgladly set a time. The subject was to be homicide in the city of death,as well as the ever present topic of the local corruption that was eatingaway at the city from within. It was a topic Vlado was forbiddento discuss, but that was beside the point. He knew as well as anyonethat journalists, U.N. people, and other outsiders were always eagerto ingratiate themselves with their bags full of booty—coffee, whiskey,cartons of Marlboros, sometimes even sugar. Who knows howgenerous they might be if you had information they wanted, whetheryou could supply it or not.The items a journalist might offer could fetch Deutschemarks, dollars,friends and influence, or even a prostitute for an hour or so. Thewhores skulking by the gates of the French U.N. garrison could behad for a couple of packs of Marlboros, a price which the U.N. troopsfound quite reasonable. Some had given up smoking altogether.The journalist had arrived right on time, a fleshy bundle of bustleand British good cheer, pinkening at the edges from his climb up thestairs, like a soft piece of fruit about to turn bad. He thrust his handoutward in greeting as he fairly shouted, “Toby Perkins, EveningStandard. Pleased to meet you.”Vlado replied with a grave stare, spooning instant coffee into asteaming cup of water, then stirring the brown crystals with the reverenceof an alchemist handling gold dust.“My last cup,” he announced, holding it toward the reporter.“Please, take it.” It set just the right tone, Vlado thought. He inwardlycongratulated himself, knowing from Toby’s thin smile and reddeningcheeks that the rest would be easy.And it was.Toby immediately set down the mug and ducked toward hissatchel, grunting and bending awkwardly from the bulk of anarmored flak vest girdling his chest. Just about every outsider worethem, although locals tended to wonder what all the fuss wasabout. Why go to the trouble when you could still get your headblown off?When Toby rose, his smile was wide and generous, and he held aone-pound jar of Nescafé. Now he was the millionaire with the shinycoin for the miserable waif. All that was left was to pat the boy on thehead. But Vlado had no qualms of pride. He only wondered whatelse might be clinking around in the big bag.Vlado first offered the obligatory refusal, downgrading his polishedEnglish to singsong cadence to better suit the moment. Play the dumb,stiff local bureaucrat for a while and Toby might give up a little quicker.“Oh no, it would not be a possibility.”Toby insisted, as they always did. “Really. Please. Go ahead. I’vegot so many, and, well, I’m leaving Monday anyway.”Leaving Monday. That always stopped him with these people,whether it was journalists, aid workers, or some Western celebrityseeking a little wartime atmosphere and some publicity. Theycame and went like tourists, flashing a blue-and-white U.N. card topass through checkpoints where just about any local would bestopped cold. Or shot. Even if he was a police detective. Only foreignersleft town so easily. They boarded U.N. cargo planes, deepbelliedgreen tubs that lumbered up over the hills and away. Thenthey no doubt toasted their survival that very night in some warmplace where the windows had glass, not flapping sheets of plastic,and where there was electric lighting and plenty of cold beer.So Vlado felt only the slightest twinge of guilt when he locked thejar of coffee in a desk drawer and announced, “I am sorry, but mysuperiors have told me that I really shouldn’t talk to you. At least noton this subject. Maybe we can speak a few minutes ‘off the record,’as people in your profession say, but anything more would not bepossible.”Then had come the unpleasant part. Toby had decided to deliver alecture. “Yes, that’s the spirit, isn’t it. Remain silent and preserve themyth.”“The myth?” Vlado had asked, curious to hear the outside world’slatest take on Balkan madness.“The myth of ethnic peace and harmony among the poor beleaguredpeople of Sarajevo. Of clean government with nothing but nobleintent. Yes, you’re victims, we all know that. Bloody well can’t turnon our televisions without seeing another weeping Sarajevan saying‘All you need is love.’ But whenever the subject of ill-gotten gainsand bad players behind the scenes comes up, you go all quiet on usand resort to your ultimate fallback: Blame the Serbs. The Chetniksdid it. And they did, didn’t they. Threw you out of half the city andthree-quarters of your country.“But you’re not exactly saints down here are you, pardon thebotched religious metaphor. What about revealing some of your ownbad apples for a change? How long do you think this war would goon if some key people in key places suddenly stopped makingmoney off it?”“You find our hatreds unconvincing, I take it? Perhaps poor oldMarx was right, after all, even if he’s no longer in fashion. In theWest, it’s always about money.”“Because it is always about money, or power, or whatever form ofwealth you want to name,” Toby said. “And that’s true in the East aswell. Why do you think the Serbs grabbed half your country right outof the gate? Not so they could lord it over you lovely people, I cantell you that. It was an economic land grab, plain and simple, dressedup as an ethnic holy crusade. ‘Save our Serbian brothers. Oh, butwhile you’re at it, take that factory over there, won’t you?’ I’m notsaying there’s any shortage of genuine hatred up in those hills. Thereare enough zealots to keep these armies burning for years. But lookat the support systems and the lines of supply. All the bit players thatprop it up. Who needs morale when you’ve got a nice flow of hardcurrency to keep the officers happy? Take that away and who knows,maybe the whole thing begins to rot from the inside out. Maybe thehatred isn’t enough anymore. Maybe you even end up with a ceasefirethat lasts long enough for something more than allowing the nextshipment of tobacco and liquor to come across the lines. With fiftypercent of the proceeds going to the local constabulary, of course.”“I think you are oversimplifying a complex situation.”“Yes, well that’s what I’m paid for, isn’t it. Take all the nice blurrygrays and turn them into black and white for the public to digestbefore moving on to the horoscopes and the latest from the Royals.But before you dismiss me as just another hack, which is exactlywhat I am, by the way, let me tell you a little story I picked up downthe road in your city of Mostar—then we’ll see what you think.”The last thing Vlado wanted from this blustering little man was anobject lesson, but he’d paid for at least that much with the pound ofcoffee, so Vlado let him ramble on.“You know the situation in Mostar, right?” Toby said, his face moreflushed by the minute. “Even worse than here, in a way. Croats andMuslims fighting each other tooth and nail down in the streets, shootingat each other from across the river, while the Serbs sit on themountains to the east and lob shells on the both of them. Like abored old housewife pouring boiling water onto a couple of fightingalley cats.“Well, a few weeks ago the local Muslim commander’s doing hisusual bit for the home side when he starts running low on artilleryshells. So he gets on the radio and calls his mate on the next hill toask for more. ‘Sorry, lads, we’re running low ourselves. Can’t spareyou a single shot. Arms embargo and all that, you know.’“So who should pipe up on the same frequency, because everybody’susing the same old Yugoslav army radios anyway, but ourSerb friend up on the mountain. We’ll call him Slobo.“ ‘If it’s shells you need, we’ve got all you’d ever want,’ GeneralSlobo says. “ ‘And at popular prices.’“ ‘Great,’ General Mohamad says. ‘But what about delivery? TheCroats are between you and us.’“ ‘No problem,’ Slobo says. ‘My Croat friend, Commander Tomislav,can bring them right to your doorstep for a small commission,say, twenty-five percent of the ordnance.’ So they haggle for a whileover price, set a time and place for delivery. Then they chat up theU.N. to arrange a temporary ‘ceasefire’ to allow for shipments of‘humanitarian aid,’ and the whole thing goes off without a hitch. TheU.N. people spend a whole day patting themselves on the back, thencan’t understand why things go sour as soon as the last truck leaves.So there you go: enemy number one arms enemy number two withthe help of enemy number three, while greasing the palms of Godknows how many generals, staff officers, subordinates and checkpointtrolls along the way. And all you people down here want totalk about is hatred, intolerance, and ‘woe is me.’ When the topic’scorruption, everyone clams up.”Vlado had no answer for him. Nor did he doubt that Toby’s littlestory had been true. He’d heard much of the same sort of thing aroundhere. So he decided to just sit. Toby would be bored soon enough.Indeed he was. Sighing, he pulled a business card from his bag.“If you should ever happen to change your mind, here’s my card.You can reach me at room four thirty-four of the Holiday Inn. Youknow the place, the big yellow dump on the front line with all theshell holes. But it’s the only room in town. Who knows, if you decidea week from now to talk, I might even be able to scrounge you asack of sugar. A little palm greasing for the good guys for a change.”And it was that parting message, Vlado supposed, that had left himwith the bitter aftertaste, a hint of shame that had played at the edgeof his thoughts for the rest of the day, like the vivid last image from awaking dream.But coffee was coffee, and he savored another sip, cradling thecup in both hands for warmth as he gazed toward the soccer field.What was so embarrassing about a little ingenuity, he told himself.He sipped the gritty remains and glanced back outside. The gravediggerswere waist-deep. He had perhaps another half hour beforethe snipers would be stirring, although he had a feeling it would beanother slow day.Some mornings he killed the extra time time by working on hisgrowing army of model soldiers. They lay before him on a smallworkbench he’d set up in the kitchen, row upon row of dash andcolor. It was a hobby he’d taken up years ago, partly out of his bookishfascination with military history, only to immediately find ittedious, a headache of minor details. And when impatience turnedhis work sloppy he’d given it up, packing away dozens of unpaintedlead men that he’d bought in an industrious burst of optimism.Then the war came. His wife and daughter evacuated the city afterthe first two months of fighting, leaving in a dusty convoy of schoolbuses on a warm May morning. Women, children and old men wavedfrom every window to a forlorn audience of young and middle-agedmen, forced by the army to stay behind. Other families spilled fromthe sides of stuffed panel trucks, their colorful scarves flapping in thebreeze that dried their tears.That evening Vlado climbed to the roof of their four-story apartmentblock, hauling himself up the fire ladder along with a smallfolding chair and a bottle of plum brandy. He sat down to watch thenightly bombardment as if it were a summer storm rolling in fromthe mountains. Distant artillery flashes played against the cloudswith the red streams of tracer bullets, and he found himself gaugingthe range of each impact by counting the seconds before the blast,just as he’d done with his daughter to calm her fear of thunder. Fora moment he recalled the fatherly comfort of having the weight of achild in one’s lap, resting your chin on the top of the small head, thehair smelling of sunlight, playground sand, and baby shampoo.He held the brandy bottle, sipping every few minutes, feeling thefire of each swallow ramble down his throat, the level dropping pastthe halfway mark as the bombardment groped its way around thecity.

Editorial Reviews

"This is a humane and moving book, a great war novel, a great crime novel. A great novel period.”—Ian Rankin“A vivid, beautifully written book . . . Lie in the Dark marks the appearance of an exciting new talent.”—Laura Lippman“Far more than just a murder mystery, Lie in the Dark is a moody, at times dire, evocation . . . of one honorable man’s dogged attempts to find truth and reason within a most unreasonable, hellish landscape.” —Dennis Lehane"This book has all the elements we love in a top-notch crime fiction: Strong plot, realistic descriptions, rich character development and intriguing story-line . . . We strongly recommend this book to all fans of mystery novels." —Mystery Tribune“A vivid chronicle of the desperation and deprivation of life in a city under seige and of the willingness of its inhabitants to profit from that condition.” —Examiner.com