Detective Esa Khattak heads up Canada's Community Policing Section, which handles minority-sensitive cases across all levels of law enforcement. Khattak is still under scrutiny for his last case, so he's surprised when INSET, Canada's national security team, calls him in on another politically sensitive issue. For months, INSET has been investigating a local terrorist cell which is planning an attack on New Year's Day but their undercover informant, Mohsin Dar, has been murdered. Khattak used to know Mohsin, and he can't let this murder slide, so he sends his partner, Detective Rachel Getty, undercover into the unsuspecting mosque which houses the terrorist cell. As Rachel tentatively reaches out into the unfamiliar world of Islam, and begins developing relationships with the people of the mosque and the terrorist cell within it, the potential reasons for Mohsin's murder only seem to multiply, from the political and ideological to the intensely personal.
The Unquiet Dead author Ausma Zehanat Khan once again dazzles with a brilliant mystery woven into a profound and intimate story of humanity.
I'm delighted to be taking part in a very special celebration this month, No Exit Press have been independently publishing fantastic crime titles for 30 years! To mark this fabulous achievement they are running a six day blog blitz - The Hunt for Read October - as six brilliant ebooks are released in the UK!
It's my absolute pleasure to be reviewing one of those books today, The Language of Secrets by Ausma Zehanat Khan. My grateful thanks to No Exit, Ausma, Anne Cater and Katherine Sunderland for my advance copy of the book and for inviting me to take part in The Hunt for Read October.
Back in July I read the first Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty Mystery, The Unquiet Dead and it blew me away. My expectations were high then for The Language of Secrets but could Ausma Zehanat Khan impress me as much a second time in a year?
Of course she could! The Language of Secrets is another outstanding thriller which combines a gripping mystery with truly thought-provoking and moving social commentary. Set soon after the events in The Unquiet Dead, Esa Khattak is under pressure and facing an inquiry into his handling of the case in that book. He's grateful then to be summoned to the Toronto operations base of the national security team, INSET but his relief is soon soured when he learns he is to investigate the murder of undercover informant, Mohsin Dar. Khattak and Dar were once close friends. Mohsin had infiltrated a terror cell and it is vital that the murder investigation doesn't threaten the two years of work that have gone into the operation. INSET have penetrated two cells working together on a bomb plot. Khattak's role is to be the very public face of the homicide investigation. He must convince the community that their rights are being fully represented and that every step is being taken to ensure Mohsin's killer is found. His father, Andy has a radio show and if he uses his platform to raise too many questions about the camp where he son was murdered, he could jeopardise the entire operation. Khattak's partner, Rachel Getty has been having a better time of late, she is more settled in her personal life now, Esa has protected her from the fall out from the Christopher Drayton case and has grown in confidence both personally and professionally. She is still relatively inexperienced however, and if the stakes aren't already personal enough for Esa, his young partner is now at significant risk as she goes undercover as a convert at the mosque used by one of the terror cells.
The chapters switch between Esa and Rachel's investigations. Esa is continually frustrated by the attitudes of some of his colleagues, his religion eliciting snide remarks about his "special insight" and by the knowledge that his loyalties are under constant doubt. The Language of Secrets is a raw and moving look at what is is to be a Muslim in Western society as Esa considers his duality; his faith is a source of courage and comfort but also pain and hurt, from both the violence and hatred wrought on Muslims and by the terrorists who carry out atrocities in the name of Islam,
"A hope of belonging vanished into itself, diminished by every new act of violence.
A knotting of sinews and bone because you were never disconnected from what the ummah suffered, any more than you could understand the madmen who claimed to speak or kill in your name."
Meanwhile Rachel's undercover mission brings her into dangerous contact with the charismatic leader of the terror cell, Hassan Ashkouri. Ausma Zehanat Khan has ensured that the other cell members are fully realised, they are young, disaffected, vulnerable and their reasons for becoming radicalised are complex and nuanced.
The fast paced plot never loses focus, I was never really sure whether Esa and Rachel or the terrorists were ahead and it all builds to a blistering and breathtaking conclusion. As a thriller it really is edge of the seat stuff that had me racing through the the pages. It's also a beautifully written book. the poetry woven throughout a timely reminder that Islam is far more than both the likes of Isis and the far right would have us believe. The Language of Secrets is an uncompromising book, featuring an intelligent and clear headed examination of our historical legacy, and of the political, religious and social attitudes that affect us all. I was left more saddened than hopeful at the end but books like this are vital, they encourage discourse and force us to examine our beliefs and prejudices. I look forward to more books featuring Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty, both for the engaging and compelling plots and for the thoughtful exploration of cultural issues that underpin all our lives.
Clink these links to buy The Language of Secrets as an ebook;
No Exit Press
You can also pre-order the paperback (published on 22nd February 2018) by following those links.
About the Author
Ausma Zehanat Khan is the author of The Unquiet Dead which won the Barry Award, the Arthur Ellis Award and the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Best First Novel.
A frequent lecturer and commentator, Ms. Khan holds a Ph.D. in International Human Rights Law with a research specialization in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans. Ms. Khan completed her LL.B. and LL.M. at the University of Ottawa, and her B.A. in English Literature & Sociology at the University of Toronto.
Formerly, she served as Editor in Chief of Muslim Girl magazine. The first magazine to address a target audience of young Muslim women, Muslim Girl re-shaped the conversation about Muslim women in North America. The magazine was the subject of two documentaries, and hundreds of national and international profiles and interviews, including CNN International, Current TV, and Al Jazeera "Everywoman".
Ausma Zehanat Khan practiced immigration law in Toronto and has taught international human rights law at Northwestern University, as well as human rights and business law at York University. She is a long-time community activist and writer, and currently lives in Colorado with her husband.
For more terrific books from No Exit Press, check out the hashtags #HuntforReadOctober and #ReadOctober on Twitter and like their Facebook page here. Don't forget to follow Ausma Zehanat Khan on Twitter as @AusmaZehanat. Her website is here.