Among The Ruins by Ausma Zehanat Khan #BookReview #BlogTour

Ausma Zehanat Khan’s provocative third mystery is a powerful novel exploring the interplay between politics and religion, and the intensely personal ripple effects of one woman's murder. 
On leave from Canada's Community Policing department, Esa Khattak is traveling in Iran, reconnecting with his cultural heritage and seeking peace in the country’s beautiful mosques and gardens. But Khattak’s supposed break from work is cut short when he’s approached by a Canadian government agent in Iran, asking him to look into the death of renowned Canadian-Iranian filmmaker Zahra Sobhani. 
Zahra was murdered at Iran’s notorious Evin prison, where she’d been seeking the release of a well-known political prisoner. Khattak quickly finds himself embroiled in Iran’s tumultuous politics and under surveillance by the regime, and when the trail leads back to Zahra’s family in Canada, Khattak calls on his partner, Detective Rachel Getty, for help. 
Rachel uncovers a conspiracy linked to the Shah of Iran and the decades-old murders of a group of Iran’s most famous dissidents. 
As Khattak gets caught up in the fate of Iran’s political prisoners, Rachel sees through to the heart of the matter: Zahra’s murder may not have been a political crime at all. 

It's such an honour to be hosting the blog tour for Among The Ruins today. Many thanks to Ausma Zehanat Khan, No Exit Press and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me and sending me an advance copy of the novel.

The previous books in Ausma Zehanat Khan's Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty series; The Unquiet Dead and The Language of Secrets both had a profound effect on me and ensured that her books are among my most highly anticipated. Among The Ruins sees the setting move from Canada to Iran and although this is probably the slowest paced of the series so far, it is no less compelling.
Following the shattering resolution to the investigation in The Language of Secrets, Esa Khattak is on leave in Iran but his holiday comes to an abrupt end when he anonymously gifted a book concealing a letter which he fears may be a threat, particularly as he senses he is being followed. A woman he realises is a Canadian government agent approaches him with a request that he finds out who is responsible for the torture, rape and murder of Canadian-Iranian filmmaker, Zahra Sobhani. The Canadian government is on the brink of resuming diplomatic relations with Iran but they first need to demand accountability for her death and it is up to Khattak to prove that a senior official from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security was directly involved in her death. Her thinly veiled threats leave him in little doubt that he isn't in a position to refuse.
 Although the pace only really picks up in the final chapters of the novel, there is an underlying sense of tension running throughout the book as Khattak is drawn into covert meetings with a group of young dissidents even though he realises he is also being watched by a government official. There is always the sense of the outsider about Khattak but while it has been his faith which has often marked him as different among his colleagues in the previous books, here it is his citizenship and job which have the potential to cause problems for him. His dual nationality means he was able to apply for his tourist visa using his Pakistani passport but as a Canadian high ranking police officer he risks becoming a bargaining chip - or worse. He is a complex, rather introspective character who chooses to keep his faith private rather than face assumptions about Muslim rage but as the novel progresses we see that cool, cautious persona tested as his core beliefs are enraged by the crimes of a state where to be an activist requires enormous courage.
As always Khattak is ably supported by Rachel Getty but here they are separated not just by distance but also due to the limitations of their coded communications; a necessary security precaution they must undertake to prevent Esa becoming a target for the authorities. She instead enlists the help of his long-term friend, Nathan Clare as they try to discover the truth behind why Zahra Sobhani returned to Iran and why she would risk taking photos of Evin prison. It's clear there is chemistry between Rachel and Nathan but ultimately it's her concerns for her boss which drives her to travel to Iran despite his protestations. She is confident enough to make her own decisions even when they're at odds with Khattak's wishes and as this series continues I'm really enjoying the ongoing development of her character, both in her professional and personal life. Having only recently been reunited with her brother, there is a poignant scene between the pair where she has to discuss the possibility that in her line of work, things might go wrong. This is the first time she has had a reason to leave instructions should she not return and we see a more vulnerable but no less resolute Rachel here.
Most of the book is concerned with Khattak's investigation and the concurrent support from Rachel back in Canada but there are brief passages told in the first person detailing the horrific torture and sexual assault of political prisoners in the notorious Evin and Kahrizak prisons. The ongoing serious human rights violations in the country mean that these sections are an incredibly difficult but absolutely vital read. Iran is a land of contrasts, however, and Ausma Zehanat Khan reveals a side to the country which many in the West may not be aware of. The rich cultural heritage and the friendly, open nature of its people enchant Khattak who realises that just the act of continuing to live an ordinary life in the face of repression is a form of resistance. In these times of fake news, Among The Ruins is a timely reminder that the power of journalism is perhaps best recognised by those who most seek to censor it and the novel is a poignant eulogy to the journalists, students, human rights activists, artists, religious and ethnic minorities and more who form the ranks of political prisoners in Iran and beyond.
The final part of the book sees a touching reunion between Khattak and Getty and their investigation eventually leads them to a high-octane race against time which saw my heart rate rocket before the heartbreaking conclusion brought me to tears. Among The Ruins is a beautiful, raw and powerful story which has all the intricacies of a complex spy thriller where the truth is allowed to unfold gradually and with devastating effect. As with her previous books, Ausma Zehanat Khan has drawn on real-life events  - including the murder of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in July 2003 - to create an outstanding work of fiction which is provocative, honest and deeply moving.  Highly recommended.

Among The Ruins is published in the UK by No Exit Press, purchasing links can be found here.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

AUSMA ZEHANAT KHAN holds a Ph.D. in International Human Rights Law with a specialisation in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans. She has practised immigration law and taught human rights law at Northwestern University and York University. 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. She is a long- time community activist and writer. A British-born Canadian, Ausma currently lives in Colorado with her husband. Among the Ruins is the third Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty mystery following The Unquiet Dead, and The Language of Secrets. It will be followed by No Place of Refuge in 2019. 
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  1. Thanks so much for this fabulous Blog Tour support Karen x


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