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 federal intelligence agency, calls him in on another potentially hot-button issue. For months, INSET has been investigating a local terrorist cell which is planning an attack on New Year’s Day.
INSET had an informant, Mohsin Dar, undercover inside the cell. But now, just weeks before the attack, Mohsin has been murdered at the group’s training camp deep in the woods.
INSET wants Khattak to give the appearance of investigating Mohsin’s death, and then to bury the lead. They can’t risk exposing their operation, or Mohsin’s role in it. But Khattak used to know Mohsin, and he knows he can’t just let this murder slide. So Khattak sends his partner, Detective Rachel Getty, undercover into the small-town 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.
Ausma Zehanat Khan holds a Ph.D. in International Human Rights Law with a specialisation in military intervention and war crimes , and it shows – though she wears her learning lightly. This gripping, fascinating and harrowing read never feels like a lecture or a series of facts in search of a story – it makes you think deeply about a wide range of topical issues whilst keeping you absolutely wrapped in its narrative and it is definitely one of Ausma’s strengths as a writer that we never feel as if her research has merely found its way into a novel.
Having enjoyed The Unquiet Dead so much, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of The Language of Secrets as I loved the setting and the main character – the enigmatic Esa Khattak. I spend the summer in Canada quite often and I loved literally following in Esa’s footsteps in trying to solve these fascinating cases.
When we hear that Esa has suffered the loss of an old friend, Mohsin Dar, it’s intriguing to wonder what made them lose touch and speculate about their connection and how it might be linked to the murder. It’s no surprise that Esa’s skills in subterfuge are called upon and he is asked to ‘launch’ a spurious murder investigation in order to try and find out more about the mysterious death and possibly get to the bottom of his old friend’s shadier connections along the way.
I hate spoilers, so I don’t want to dwell too long on the plot of The Language of Secrets – suffice to say that the skilful way that Khan weaves the murder and detective team of Khattak & Getty with the infiltration of a terrorist cell is superbly done and remains convincing throughout. I know at times it can feel like the fictional world is saturated with male/ female detective teams with complicated back stories but this is a pleasing alliance with two very different points of view which collide pleasingly and create plenty of room for their relationship to develop (hopefully) in subsequent adventures as they solve these complicated Canadian crimes together.
Reading this last week when friends in Toronto had to cancel a college reunion because of terror threats about a car ramming in downtown Toronto made this novel feel all the more real and definitely made it come to life for me as I delved deeper into the hidden world of Mohsin Dar and discover what being an informant can really mean.
I loved the way that this novel wove many threads together – a convincing detective story, a consideration of modern terror cella and their impact on society, an examination of friendship and the impact it can have on our lives in a much wider way than we might have anticipated – and I also enjoyed the references to Arabic literature throughout the novel that definitely made me resolve to read more texts in translation this year and expose myself to writing from other cultures and countries on a more regular basis.
Terrorism isn’t a topic that I’m normally drawn to but his novel never allows you to forget is that that this actually happen all the time Although this is a novel, the events that you are reading about have definitely happened to many people, many times and I think that Khan balances this fine tissue of truth and fiction perfectly. No one reading this book could possibly come away unscathed by it and it’s been a hard book to follow as I find myself continuously thinking back to it and thinking about the way that ideologies can be used to distance us from other people rather than join us more closely together in mutual understanding and I think that this novel really promotes the idea that there is far more that connects us than separates us.
The Language of Secrets is definitely one of those novels that stays with you long after closing its final page and one that I will definitely be recommending to my friends – it packs a powerful emotional punch; educates just as much as it entertains and makes you wish that you could step into the world of Khattak and meet his friends and colleagues for yourself. If you enjoy an immersive and intelligent will ask you to think about your own attitudes and examine the way that you think about your own culture and its preconceptions then you will love this book as much as I did. I can’t wait to see what Rachel Getty and Essa Khattak do next. I’m a sucker for a great detective pairing and the relationship between these two characters will undoubtedly make you feel like they’ve stepped right off the page and you’re following the trail of the terrorist cell right alongside them.
Writer on the Shelf
Ausma Zehanat Khan’s debut novel was The Unquiet Dead, published by St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books, and winner of the Barry Award, the Arthur Ellis Award and the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Best First Novel. She is also at work on a fantasy series, to be published by Harper Voyager, beginning October 2017. The Bloodprint is Book One of the Khorasan Archives.
A frequent lecturer and commentator, Ms Khan holds a PhD 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”.
Ms Khan practised 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. (bio from the author’s site)