The Language of Secrets by Ausma Zehanat Khan.

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About the Book

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.

My Review

The Language of Secrets is the second book in the series to feature Esa and Rachel. While the storylines are completely different to get the full back story I strongly recommend reading The Unquiet Dead first.

Esa is asked to investigate a group that is possibly Jihadist when an old friend who was undercover is murdered. Because he is well-known in the community, after the events in previous cases, Rachel is chosen to go undercover to the group meetings. She tries to give the impression that she is lost and can get salvation from the close-knit group atmosphere and the learnings that they undertake.  She isn’t the only non-Muslim woman there. There is also Paula, an older woman who is prone to bullying but had feelings for the murdered man and Grace, a seriously messed up teenage girl.

Rachel wants to get answers, find out more about the possible attack and keep the younger members of the group out of danger. Esa is under a lot of pressure. His sister is too close to one of the leaders in the group, the father of the victim is making threats publicly against the police, mainly Esa, and he has to answer to a man who quite frankly needs a smack in the mouth  a strong talking to. There was more focus on Esa’s personal life in this book. The reader was introduced to his younger sisters, the love he felt for his dead wife and the way he lived his life and practised his religion.

I did find it an unsettling book to read. Jihadists and extremism are never far from the news and the attitudes of some in the group were hard to read, you could see the control over the younger members and how easily they could be led. Also unsettling was the approach by the officials. There were some in the investigation team who didn’t understand why Esa’s unit was there. Some of the characters who needed compassion didn’t receive it. But the good in the society were also represented, Esa being a prime example but also others on the periphery who just wanted to live their lives in peace and to be accepted. This was probably one of the hardest things to read in the novel. That the majority in Islam are peace-loving but are presumed not to be.

Even though this is a fictional novel it is based on true events. I hadn’t heard of Toronto 18 on which this novel was based.

With thanks to the publisher for the copy received.

The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan – Review.

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About the Book

One man is dead.
But thousands were his victims.
Can a single murder avenge that of many?
Scarborough Bluffs, Toronto: the body of Christopher Drayton is found at the foot of the cliffs. Muslim Detective Esa Khattak, head of the Community Policing Unit, and his partner Rachel Getty are called in to investigate. As the secrets of Drayton’s role in the 1995 Srebrenica genocide of Bosnian Muslims surface, the harrowing significance of his death makes it difficult to remain objective. In a community haunted by the atrocities of war, anyone could be a suspect. And when the victim is a man with so many deaths to his name, could it be that justice has at long last been served?
In this important debut novel, Ausma Zehanat Khan has written a compelling and provocative mystery exploring the complexities of identity, loss, and redemption.

My Review

Up until a few years ago I had never read any books like this. By that I mean the books that are crime fiction but also break your heart. The majority of the books that I had read regarding the atrocities of war  were committed during WW2. The Unquiet Dead which is based around  events that occurred in 1995, 50 years later, show that nothing had changed. Men, women and children losing their lives due to ethnic cleansing. I remember the events that happened in the former Yugoslavia. I had seen reports on the news regarding the war crimes trials. But none of those reports or most of the earlier reviews I had read about this novel prepared me for how devastating I would find parts of it. Mainly anything that was written in italics was distressing, especially if you did, like I did, which was to read the explanation at the back.
Whilst these parts were important to the novel they didn’t impact on the storyline concerning why Christopher Drayton fell to his death. Nobody appeared to know his true identity, everybody who was connected to him thought his death was an accident but the detectives weren’t convinced. They had a dilemma though, if it was retribution should the culprit suffer more by going to prison.
Both of the detectives had troubled personal lives, some of which isn’t revealed. There was mention of a previous case, which made me think I had missed a book, but this is labeled as book one. Esa, especially is an enigma. his character is very complex and at times I did struggle to connect to him. Rachel, though, I liked immediately.  Another character I really liked was Hadley. Her relationship with the repulsive ‘Mad Mel’ and her devotion to her father and sister was wonderful to read.
It was a book that I needed to read in complete silence. I needed to soak up every word and feel every emotion, whether it be anger, guilt or sadness. Parts are devastating to read but there was also humour from Hadley and loyalty from Nate and Audrey.
A different novel for me but one that I am glad I read and I am eagerly looking forward to reading the second book in the series soon.

With thanks to the publisher for the copy received.