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Book Author: Ausma Zehanat Kahn

AMONG THE RUINS by Ausma Zehanat Khan: Book Review

Esa Khattak, a detective in the Canadian Community Policing Department, is away from his job in Toronto.  He’s making his first visit to Iran, partly as a pilgrimage to his Muslim roots and partly to escape for a while from his recent past.

His previous case led him to kill a man and although the shooting was justified, he was placed on administrative leave.  So here he is in Iran, visiting its many beautiful gardens and mosques, but feeling all the while as if someone is monitoring him, watching his every step.

Then, after three weeks in the country, his feeling is confirmed.  At the guesthouse where he is staying in Esfahan, a package is left for him, a book on the Alborz Mountains with his name inscribed in it.  The owner of the inn tells Esa that he has no idea who left the book on the doorstep, and when Esa opens the book a one-page letter falls out.  “We are bound together, chained,” it reads.

Told by the owner of the guesthouse that he needs a change of scene, Esa takes a bus trip to tour the historic city of Varzaneh, known for its dovecotes and the white chadors that women wear while praying in the city’s mosque.  Sipping a glass of tea in the chaikhaneh (tea house) across from the mosque, Esa becomes aware of a middle-aged woman who obviously has been searching for him.  His feeling was right, someone has been following him.

His “watcher” is Helen Swan, called Touka.  She presents herself as someone who purchases souvenirs for resale but admits she also runs errands for the Canadian government.  She explains that she is speaking on behalf of Zahra Sobhani, a world-renown Iranian/Canadian journalist and filmmaker who returned to her native country after the release of the documentary she filmed about the stolen Iranian election of June 2009.

During her visit, Zahra went to the infamous Evin prison with two objectives:  to obtain the release of her stepdaughter, Roxanne Najafi, an anti-government agitator, and to get photographs and videos of the conditions in the prison.  Days after Zahra was seen at the prison’s entrance, her mutilated corpse was left at her family’s Tehran home.

Touka insists that Esa help in getting proof that Barsam Radam, a senior official at the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, was involved in the murder.  When Esa is resistant, Touka puts on the pressure.  Help us, she says, and we can make some of the problems you’ve had in Toronto following the shooting vanish; don’t help us and we can make things worse for you.

Among the Ruins is the third in the Esa Khattak series, and it is as well written as the two previous ones.  What makes it outstanding is the Iranian setting, with its sense of the many beauties and cultural history of the country as well as its many political upheavals.  You will feel as if you are traveling with Esa as he’s torn between his admiration of the young people who are trying to reform the government and his fears for their lives.

Ausma Zehanat Kahn is an international human rights lawyer and former law professor.  You can read more about her at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

THE UNQUIET DEAD by Ausma Zehanat Khan: Book Review

The Bosnian war ended more than two decades ago, but its tremors are still being felt.  In Toronto, police detective Esa Khattak and his partner Rachel Getty are about to relive the massacres that occurred when the former Yugoslavia split into three warring nations, and the Bosnian Serb forces began the killing of 100,000 citizens, the majority of them Yugoslavian Muslims.  It was the worst European genocide since World War II.

Christopher Drayton, a Canadian citizen and wealthy entrepreneur, is found at the bottom of a cliff near his home of Scarborough Bluffs.  Why, Esa wonders, has the Community Policing Section that he heads been called to investigate what would seem to be an unfortunate accident, given the dark night and the unstable grounds from which Christopher fell?

Esa asks Rachel to meet him at Winterglass, the home of famed author Nathan Clare, since Nate was a neighbor of the late Christopher Drayton.  It becomes obvious to Rachel, early in their visit, that Nate and Esa have known each other for years; indeed, Nate tells Rachel that the two of them went to college together.  So why, she wonders, is the air so filled with tension?

Following the visit to Nate’s home, the two detectives search Drayton’s house, and Rachel finds a file with a number of papers inside.  Each one has a sentence or two on it, not exactly threats, but certainly unpleasant thoughts.  This is a cat-and-mouse game.  As you took everything from me, you asked if I was afraid.  Can you right all the wrongs of the past?  What are they doing in Drayton’s house?  Were they written by him?  Were they sent to him?  Either way, there’s something about Drayton’s life that doesn’t seem to fit the picture that he presented to the world.

There appear to be two major parts to Drayton’s life.  First, he was engaged to Melanie Blessant, a divorced mother of two young daughters.  Second, he was about to give a very sizable donation to a local history museum, Ringsong, that specializes in the Andalusian traditions of art and poetry.  Could the murdered man’s substantial wealth have been a factor in his death?  His fiancée certainly seems to be more distraught at the thought of missing the huge wedding she had been planning than she is at Christopher’s death.  And was Drayton’s interest in the history of Andalusia simply self-aggrandizement, a genuine interest in Andalusia, or did he have a darker motive?  And how does this all connect to the Bosnian war of the 1990s?

The Unquiet Dead is an amazing book, both beautifully written and painful to read.  The author has a doctorate in international human rights law and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law.  All this background comes into play in this deeply felt novel.  Ms. Kahn’s characters are realistic, both heroic and flawed, each with his or her own agenda that takes precedence over everything else in life.

Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty will be appearing in the second book of the series in February, and I am very much looking forward to reading it.

You can read more about Ausma Zehanat Khan at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.