Deadline: Sarajevo

To the friends of Vlado Petric, his job as homicide detective in Sarajevo during the recent civil war was that “of a plumber fixing leaky toilets in the middle of a flood, an auto mechanic patching tires while the engine burned to a cinder.” Wait until the end of the war, they said. All the suspects will be dead by then. Vlado would agree with them, but in his inner mind he knew differently. His job was his last link to the life he knew before the war, before his wife and young daughter became refugees living illegally in Berlin. For now, he moves through the long days, marking the shifting tide of the war by counting the graves being dug in the soccer field below his apartment window and tackling the occasional murder that was not caused by a sniper.

Petric’s assignment to investigate the death of a high police official is meant as proof to the local U.N. officials that the city is still functioning. The well-marked trail — that the official was on the take and was killed when he demanded too much money — was meant to lead to a quick report and possibly the arrest of some unfortunate. But they didn’t reckon on Sarajevo’s last honest detective. Petric’s investigation leads him deep into the black market economy where cigarettes function as currency, gasoline is sold in glass liter bottles and where men are not above putting the hurt on police officers asking too many questions.

“Lie in the Dark” is a strong mystery debut by Baltimore Sun journalist Dan Fesperman that rediscovers the morally shaky worlds of Graham Greene and John le Carre on the bomb-shattered streets of Sarajevo. Fesperman covered the war and writes about life in Sarajevo with the confidence and knowledge of a native. But he does more than report on what he saw. “Lie” is a beautifully written, sad elegy to a city in agony, and Petric emerges from the pages as a whole man, with his strong curiosity, an aching need for his family, and imbued with the very real fear that one misstep, either on Sniper Alley or while questioning a witness, could lead to an unmarked grave on a soccer field.