The Language of Secrets (Rachel Getty and Esa Khattak #2), by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Nine stars

Continuing with Ausma Zehanat Khan’s Canadian police procedural series, I remain enthralled with the themes and topics that come to the forefront in a single novel. It has forced me to take a harder look at myself as what is soon becoming the ‘invisible minority’ in my country of birth, while also requiring that I step back and explore some of the general sentiments that pieces of mass fiction I have read make regularly. Not only does Khan pack a punch with her story, but she challenges the reader to pay attention to how we might ‘Keep Canada Great’, while our geographic neighbours are dragged into the proverbial political cave and clubbed over the head with xenophobia and scare tactics. Canada’s Community Policing Section remains an integral part of keeping the peace in the country, overseen by INSET, the premier security team. After the fallout of a recent high-profile case, Esa Khattak’s leadership sits on shaky ground, but he is sent to investigate another case with significant implications. INSET has been watching a terror cell within a Toronto mosque and has gone so far as to plant an informant, Moshin Dar, in hopes of cracking a New Year’s Day attack that seems to be gaining momentum. When Dar is shot in the wilderness while out with a number of cell members, many wonder if his cover has been blown. Khattak has a hard time with this, as Dar was a long-time friend of his. Sure that the publicity to which he has been subjected will make the investigation more difficult, Khattak takes the ‘policing’ role and investigates the crime, while he sends his partner, Rachel Getty, in to investigate as a wayward young woman seeking direction. As Khattak seeks to make headway on the investigation, he must face his past and some of the tangled roots of his own family tree. With some loose information that Dar was able to leak to his handlers, Khattak is a little closer to determining what is being planned in the coming weeks. But, there are those who remain leery of this Muslim police officer who appears to be siding with the established enemy. Meanwhile, Getty is trying to piece together the life Dar had within the cell and the mosque as well, but faces much judgment and her queries rub some the wrong way. There is little time, forcing both Khattak and Getty to up the pressure, worried that one misstep could cost countless lives, including their own. Another powerful novel that explores many issues about the view many (Canadians) have of the Islamic religion and generalizations about their beliefs and supports. Khan is both subtle and forthright in her criticism of the country she once called home, though one can imagine that her views do not stop at any geographic border. Highly recommended for those who loved Khan’s series debut, as well as the reader who enjoys the exploration of the religious and political clashes between Western democracies and the larger Muslim community.

Finding this series can entirely be attributed to a morning scan of Goodreads. Thereafter, I had to locate Ausma Zehanat Khan’s work without delay. After a debut that left me stunned, I had to keep reading to determine how things would progress with Khan’s unique perspective. She has chosen to take a look at Canadian multiculturalism and peels back the neutral nature the country has received. Khan mixes the narrative up with some frank discussion of the Muslim population and how they are viewed from the outside, as well as within the larger community. Here, Khan pushes a terror cell theme and explores it from a variety of perspectives, all of which enrich the reader’s experience. Khan again uses her two protagonists—Khattak and Getty—who come from completely different backgrounds, but connect well on a number of levels. Esa Khattak’s active practice of Islam helps him to empathize well in this novel, though his connection to the victim poses numerous hurdles. Khan also injects the plight of a community who feels he has turned against them, and a family that is anything but easy to handle. The reader learns a little more about Khattak’s backstory and his wife who has died, though there is much that is left undiscovered up to this point. As the story progresses, Khattak must face a number of roadblocks in order to get to the truth, both of the case and his own life. Rachel Getty’s perspective on things is quite intriguing and might be more in line with much of what the young Canadian feels today. Khan has done a wonderful job to instil some of the preconceptions made in living the life of a Caucasian in Toronto, but also allows for a view of a young person challenging themselves and all they hold dear. Using Getty in a ‘plant’ role within the mosque was a great way for Khan to bridge the divide, as well as provide the reader with some non-judgmental insights into the blinders many wear. Getty struggles at times, but is always trying to make connections, fully aware that her own personal life with a brother who was ‘off the grid’ for a long time matches some of the isolation that others within the cell felt before ‘finding their niche’. There are a handful of other characters who add great layers to the story, particularly the Islamic sentiment in a Judeo-Christian country that espouses openness and multiculturalism. Canada finds itself in an odd spot, with the Americans breathing down their proverbial neck. The narrative was amazing and challenged me throughout, forcing me to stop allowing my notions to cloud my reading experience. I was drawn to the story from the opening pages and accepted Khan’s perspective not to vilify the Islamic elements, which also not painting them as angelic. There were many twists and turns throughout, but the themes of the story were not lost on me. I could easily see what Khan was trying to do and accept the perspective she offered. While many may say they ‘know enough’, I would challenge the curious reader to try going into the experience with as open a mind and clean a slate as possible. It will provide a language of understanding, rather than secrets ill-advised perspectives that are shaped by xenophobia that is constructed on fear-mongering.

Kudos, Madam Khan, for such a riveting tale to open this series. I cannot wait to see what themes return and which new perspectives you have to offer in the second novel.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: