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THE LANGUAGE OF SECRETS
The Unquiet Dead author, Ausma Khan, returns with another haunting mystery following detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty as they investigate the murder of a federal agent who was deep undercover in a terrorist ring
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. 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 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.
Ausma Zehanat Khan once again dazzles with a brilliant mystery woven into a profound and intimate story of humanity.
Ausma Zehanat Khan holds a Ph.D. in International Human Rights Law and is a former adjunct law professor. She was Editor-in-Chief of Muslim Girl magazine, the first magazine targeted to young Muslim women. A British-born Canadian, Khan now lives in Colorado with her husband. This is her second novel.
Some fantastic new attention is now in for the recently-published THE LANGUAGE OF SECRETS by Ausma Zehanat Khan!
The Washington Post has posted a glowing review and says the book “is as much an examination of the complicated social, political and religious aspects of the war against terrorism as it is a crime procedural.” Full review here:
The Denver Post has profiled the author in a great story here:
And Maclean’s magazine features an interview with Khan that can be read here: http://www.macleans.ca/culture/books/the-interview-crime-author-ausma-zehanat-khans-unique-lens-on-islam/
Praise for The Language of Secrets:
“More than just another police procedural, this culturally relevant thriller offers a fascinating look at the ties that bind people together and the scars that fester into extremism. The author’s skilled writing creates engaging and thoughtful prose. While it follows characters from her debut novel, it stands well on its own. Khattak and Getty are a dynamic team, and the lack of political caricature makes this sophomore novel a timely must-read.” —RT Book Reviews, 4 ½ stars and a Top Pick!
“Sophisticated…The characters are well-drawn and pleasingly varied: Khattak is a compelling protagonist, a cerebral, reserved Muslim comfortable with his faith but not ruled by it, and the buoyant, hockey-loving Getty is an endearing foil. The cell members are afforded fully dimensional personalities and varied passions, ideals, and justifications for their actions; everyone has their reasons, Khan understands, and her nuanced exploration of those reasons elevates her second novel above the general run of detective fiction. A smart, measured, immersive dive into a poorly understood, terrifyingly relevant subculture of violent extremism.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Engaging… [readers] will be rewarded by a gripping climax in the snowy wilderness of Ontario’s Algonquin Park.” —Publishers Weekly
Praise for The Unquiet Dead:
“Impressive…Throughout Getty and Khattak’s solid and comprehensive investigation, Khan’s talents are evident. This first in what may become a series is a many-faceted gem. It’s a sound police procedural, a somber study of loss and redemption and, most of all, a grim effort to make sure that crimes against humanity are not forgotten.” —The Washington Post
“The Unquiet Dead blazes what one hopes will be a new path guided by the author’s keen understanding of the intersection of faith and core Muslim values, complex human nature and evil done by seemingly ordinary people. It is these qualities that make this a debut to remember and one that even those who eschew the genre will devour in one breathtaking sitting.” —The LA Times
“Ausma Zehanat Khan’s gripping first novel tackles questions of identity, culture, revenge and war horrors in a strong police procedural…Khan illustrates her powerful storytelling through her well-sculpted characters…An intelligent plot and graceful writing make The Unquiet Dead an outstanding debut that is not easily forgotten.” —The New York Times
“This is Canadian-born Khan’s first novel and what a debut it is!...Khan knows her subject, knows her hometown, and knows how to keep the suspense building. This is a writer to watch.” —The Globe and Mail
“Anyone looking for an intensely memorable mystery should put this book at the top of their list.”—Library Journal (starred, Debut of the Month)
“Beautiful and powerful.”—Publishers Weekly (starred)
Library Journal Starred Review for The Language of Secrets:
Khan’s The Unquiet Dead debuted to rave reviews. This second installment is about the pursuit of a jihadist cell (you can’t arrest them until you have proof), the search for a killer, and lastly and most significantly, the infighting, much of it driven by prejudice, among Canada’s law enforcement agencies. Essa Khattak heads the Community Policing Section, an odd-duck agency set up to negotiate the confused politics of Canada’s Muslim community. But Khattak’s job just makes him a target for enemies in Canada’s Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET—think: Homeland Security). All Muslims are suspect to them. Khattak’s partner, Rachel Getty, is an attractive second banana: robust (she plays hockey on the side), devoted to her boss, and a competent, even inspired bloodhound. Khattak and Getty negotiate their way through one minefield after another, with only some of the traps set by the jihadists. Part of the search hinges on Khattak’s knowledge of Arabic poetry, but this isn’t a puzzle mystery; rather it is a novel of character and mores, and an exceptionally fine one.
VERDICT A heartfelt novel for lovers of crime fiction and anyone interested in the complexities of living as a Muslim in the West today.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
In Ausma Zehanat Khan’s The Language of Secrets, a mosque in suburban Toronto is said to host a zealot, a handsome and charismatic man with dreams of jihad. And there’s a training camp in the deep forest outside Toronto, suspected to be a jihadi training camp, although there’s insufficient evidence to warrant a search. But now that news is spreading of a murder nearby, tensions are rising. Answers won’t come easy, because unbeknownst to anyone outside a small circle, Mohsin Dar, the dead man, was living a dual life as a jihadi and as an undercover agent for INSET, Canada’s version of the Department of Homeland Security. If this detail leaks, months of investigative work will go down the tubes. Enter Esa Khattak, police investigator and erstwhile friend of the deceased. Khattak heads up the Community Policing Section, a cross-agency unit charged with the coordination of investigations of culturally sensitive crimes. And the killing of Mohsin has all the earmarks of a culturally sensitive crime, whether personal, political or in the name of religion. If you haven’t read Khan’s excellent debut, The Unquiet Dead, the second in the series will place this powerful new storyteller on your radar.
AP Associated Press
Review: 'The Language of Secrets' Is Action-Packed Novel
By OLINE H. COGDILL, Associated Press, Feb 1, 2016
The hot-button issues of religion and culture — sometimes wrapped in controversy and suspicion — make a compelling foundation in Ausma Zehanat Khan's second novel about Esa Khattak, head of Toronto's Community Policing Section that handles minority issues.
In her second, thought-provoking novel, Khan continues to show how Esa is divided by his devotion to his Muslim faith and community and his role as a police detective. He is constantly being scrutinized, suspected of being a traitor by both his Muslim community and by the police force.
In "The Language of Secrets," Esa's loyalties are tested again when he is assigned to investigate the murder of Mohsin Dar, an estranged friend who had infiltrated a Muslim terrorist cell. As Esa looks into Mohsin's life, his partner, Sgt. Rachel Getty, goes undercover in the mosque, claiming she is considering converting. But Esa's investigation is hampered personally and professionally. His independent sister, Ruksh, has been secretly engaged to the mosque's leader, Hassan Ashkouri. Inspector Ciprian Coale, who is investigating the terrorist plot, purposely keeps vital aspects of the investigation from Esa — partly because he doesn't trust Esa's loyalties and also because the two men are enemies.
With its thought-provoking, intelligent plot, "The Language of Secrets" even surpasses Khan's superb debut, "The Unquiet Dead."
"The Language of Secrets" delivers a powerful insight into the Muslim community, exploring those who are peace-loving and proud of their heritage as well as those whose pride transforms into violence. Yet Khan never stoops to a treatise about the Muslim world while smoothly incorporating a look at the culture, politics and poetry.
Khan's affinity for character studies reaches its zenith in the complicated Esa, an honorable man constantly torn by his choices, yet sure of himself. "It's the price you pay for doing what is necessary," he says. "For what you think is right. ... And for knowing where you belong."
Using a 2006 failed terrorist plot that was uncovered by Canadian law enforcement, Khan delivers an action-packed police procedural complemented by strong characters with believable motives.
Language of Secrets: Zehanat Khan brings back Muslim detective for new novel inspired by Toronto 18 events
Fully-formed characters offer complex look at culture
By: Sue Carter For Metro Published on Wed Jan 20 2016
Every time mystery writer Ausma Zehanat Khan crosses the border, leaving her adopted home of Denver heading back into Canada for a family visit, she is always aware of her status as a Muslim woman. And whenever she turns on the news, especially during this particularly hostile American election, she is reminded how vitriolic public discussion around the Muslim community can be.
“So much of that discourse is very ill-informed and uneducated on issues about what Muslims are about, what the Muslim faith is about. It’s important for me to speak back to that a little bit with my characters and the stories that I’m telling,” Khan says.
“I don’t really consider it an agenda, but it’s my experience that I’m writing about. It’s about what I know, the communities that form my reality and the reality of so many people that I know.”
Khan, who has her Ph.D. in international human-rights law, specializing in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans, drew on her expertise and background for her first novel, The Unquiet Dead (Minotaur Books), a mystery-thriller connected to the 1995 Srebrenica genocide. It was here she introduced her protagonist, the Toronto-based Muslim detective Esa Khattak and his partner, Rachel Getty, a no-nonsense hockey-playing cop who plays the perfect foil to elegantly handsome Khattak.
The detectives return for Khan’s new murder-mystery, The Language of Secrets, which was inspired by another true crime: the arrest of the Toronto 18, an ill-prepared group of terrorists whose plans to bomb Parliament Hill was thwarted by the RCMP and CSIS in 2006.
To prepare for the book, Khan researched Islamic history and politics, jihadist websites and stacks of police materials. She also had in-house help: her husband is an expert on Islam and politics. “He’s a great resource to go to and hear all the different sides of the story,” Khan says.
While jihadist terrorists have become easy go-to villains, Khan believes her books stand out because there are still few fully formed Muslim characters like Khattak to be found, especially within crime-thrillers. The Language of Secrets is also rare in the genre because of the poetry that flows through it. From recitals of classical works to slam poetry nights, it is present throughout her story, which Khan says comes from her upbringing as the daughter of two Pakistani-Canadians who hosted recitals at their house.
Khan’s love of the tradition continued when she attended University of Toronto, and would find herself in the stacks of Robarts Library, looking up titles in translation.
Beyond wanting to celebrate and share Eastern art, Khan had another personal reason for incorporating poetry into a whodunit murder. She says, “If you look at Arab or Persian traditions, you’ll see poetry is very much at their heart. I thought a very beautiful way to temper the ugliness of the jihadist ideology is also to express the beauty of those traditions.”
Sue Carter is the editor at Quill & Quire magazine.
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