A Deadly Divide (Rachel Getty and Esa Khattak #5), by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Nine stars

Having binged all novels (and a short story) in the series to date, I can assert that Ausma Zehanat Khan seeks not only to tell a story to the reader, but to impact them with her powerful narrative and poignant topics. While the issues likely occur all over the world, Khan debunks the ‘Canada is a peaceful place of love and harmony’ with these novels, using her knowledge of Islam and through the genre of police procedurals. After a shooting at a mosque in a small Quebec town, Community Policing sends Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty to be part of the team to investigate. While the local priest was discovered with one of the guns in his hands, it was a paramedic of African descent who was seen fleeing soon thereafter and speaking in Arabic that garners the most attention. All this, while the Premier of Quebec is trying to balance new legislation that neutralises outward religious symbolism and practice with keeping everyone safe. While Khattak and Getty seek to work as part of the team, there are blogs and a call-in radio show that are fanning the flames about assimilation and vilification of all things Islamic. The community is torn, though the fires of xenophobia burn hot and no one is yet ready to douse them. While Khattak and the rest if the investigators seek to work on leads, they face a local white supremacist group that hides their views behind wanting to keep Quebec ‘pur laine’ or as traditional as possible. Getty sees that these sentiments may have leaked into the police force, compromising the investigation at its highest level. Meanwhile, Khattak receives some news that shakes him to the core, placing his spot in the investigation and personal safety at risk. Might this small community be a microcosm of the larger sentiment about the Muslim community in Canada? Could Khattak’s future with Community Policing be coming to an end? And what of his decision to settle down with a woman he only recently admitting to loving? Khan does not stop in her chilling tale and forces the reader out of their comfort zone as they explore the propagation of hate in Canada and the sparks that lit the fire. Highly recommended for fans of the series, as well as the reader who is prepared to invest the time and emotional effort it takes to understand all the issues on offer.

Khan seems keen to work outside the box and deliver a set of powerful novels that tell more than a simple police case with a killer on the loose. She wants the reader to see the deeper level of Islamic beliefs and the generalised treatment received in Canada and on the world stage. This novel really punches Canada in the stomach, deflating the ‘love everyone’ mentality that the country seems to have. With xenophobia on full display in other parts of the continent, Khan places the microscope on Canada and shows all the pitfalls that have emerged, particularly with the recent legislation in Quebec, shielded behind ‘Quebec values’. Esa Khattak returns to be both the face of the law and Muslim-Canadians, which proves to be the most difficult of all in this novel. Torn between trying to find the mass shooter and yet not compromise his personal or religious views becomes the struggle he cannot overcome. While sifting through the ashes of what’s happened, he is constantly a target of ridicule and generalisations. This only hurts his ability to do his job and causes insurmountable grief at the worst times. His need to decide about the future of his place within Community Policing is key and Khan uses this subplot as a real punch to series fans who have come to adore him. Rachel Getty is still on a steep learning curve when it comes to the job, though she knows all too well what it is like to be targeted. Bigotry and sexism are rampant in law enforcement agencies, something that cannot be stopped with a memo or two. That being said, Rachel has also become highly protective of her boss, Khattak, and seeks to shield him from the onslaught, whenever possible. Getty can no longer rely on her wit and intuition, but must challenge those who are outrightly fanning the flames, even if it costs her a position at Community Policing. This struggle is real and could lead to some major changes within the organisation. Khan uses a great cross-section of characters, each of whom plays an integral role in the larger narrative. The complexity of this story demands something out of the usual collection, though Khan handles it masterfully. The reader is taken on a wonderful ride throughout and can see first hand just how problematic things can become. From hate group members to those within the police, there is an inherent bias or racism that cannot be erased or hidden. The series reader will know that the stories take on a life of their own, with a narrative full of twists as the plot thickens. There is much to be gleaned from the story, with facts and sentiments woven into the fabric of the piece, which allows the attentive reader a more impactful story. Khan will not sugarcoat and rarely lets the reader sit back and ‘enjoy’ the progress of the case. She has a message and it is one worth hearing, even if it tells of something we do not want to admit.

Kudos, Madam Khan, for putting this topic out there. It needs to be discussed and the current situation in Canada is turning your work of fiction into something of a reality with each passing day!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

A Dangerous Crossing (Rachel Getty and Esa Khattak #4), by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Nine stars

Returning to her full-length novels, Ausma Zehanat Khan takes the reader into another of the crises facing the Muslim population today, with a Canadian flavouring in this police procedural. Two bodies turn up on a Greek island, one a French INTERPOL agent and the other a Syrian refugee. A Canadian NGO has been processing Syrians for relocation in North America and its founder has gone missing. After a rocky time for the Community Policing Section, Inspectors Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty are back on their feet. Khattak is approached by his close friend, Nathan Clare, that it was his sister, Audrey, who has been heading up Woman 2 Woman and is nowhere to be found. A series of emails between Nathan and his sister provides some assistance in trying to put the situation into context, though it is not enough. Khattak remains highly professional, knowing that he is still being eyed for any misstep. However, the Canadian Prime Minister is also trying to make a difference in his image as it relates to the refugee crisis and has given Khattak free rein to work. Khattak and Getty work angles in and around Toronto, where they learn more about the NGO, but it will not be enough. They travel to the Greek island, where there is much more to learn about the influx of refugees from Syria and surrounding countries. Khattak learns of the European distaste for these ‘migrants’ and must come to understand how a world of haves can refuse help to those who are fleeing nothing. There is also the iron fist of the Syrian government, happy to slay anyone trying to escape the country. Khattak and Getty will have to work hard, not only to understand the Syrian crisis, but to locate Audrey Clare and determine who committed the murders that started this entire investigation. There are more secrets, layered inside bureaucracy and deceptions meant to keep the truth from seeing the light of day. A brilliant piece that packs a punch, allowing Khan to portray a powerful message that will not let the reader ignore the issue at hand. Recommended to those who have loved the series to date, as well as readers who enjoy something deeper that allows them to learn a little while being entertained with great storytelling.

Khan has yet to let up with her full-length novels, keen on addressing some of the major issues facing the more vulnerable portions of the Muslim world. With the current refugee crisis in Syria, the novel seeks to focus much of its attention on the plight of those fleeing horrible conditions while also trying to settle in a new homeland that is both helpful and accepting. Esa Khattak again becomes the voice of reason when it comes to the treatment of Muslims, offering his perspective and insights into the acceptance that Canada has for those in need. He must balance this with the knowledge that his own job is on the line, forcing him to make choices that are not only prudent, but can easily be explained up the chain of command. There is, again, some backstory that relates to his own family, which is embedded into the larger narrative and allows the reader to better understand him, if only for a time. Rachel Getty has her own role to play in the story, torn between trying to see things from a perspective not her own while wrestling with emotions as they relate to a man who is not even formally in her romantic sphere. Series readers will have seen hints throughout but it is all coming to a head, forcing Getty to decide which path to take. There are countless others who find themselves a part of this book. Each character brings something to the narrative and helps to shape the messaging that Khan wishes to portray. I have come to see that she uses her characters with a real intention and does not drop a subplot or individual into the narrative for no reason. It is the attentive reader who can extract the needed information and add it to the story being told. This enrichment makes the reader all the more aware of what is going on and helps to push along the intended message. While the Syrian situation has been going on for a while, it was only after reading this book that I had a better understanding of how things have been going. Refugees come from all parts of the world, but it is more than just opening the border as a compassionate nation. There are politics around refugees and migrants that surpass safety of those in need. These decisions are surely quite difficult and somewhat precarious, forcing politicians to think of a number of interests before making a decision. Khan definitely knows how to fuel the fire with this book (and her others), making it a wonderful choice for a reading group not hesitant to have clashing opinions.

Kudos, Madam Khan, for making me think. I need that when reading, even as I sit here on vacation.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

A Death in Sarajevo (Rachel Getty and Esa Khattak #3.5), by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Eight stars

With three successful novels in the series, Ausma Zehanat Khan takes her Canadian police procedural on a slightly different path with this short story. As the piece opens, some of the fallout from past cases has made its way up to the Parliament of Canada, with an inquiry into the actions undertaken by Inspector Esa Khattak. In what appears to be an attempted whitewashing by the committee chair, Khattak is forced to deflect the blame and ensure it is clear that the Ministry of Justice authorised his actions. Supported by his partner, Rachel Getty, Khattak seeks not to be the sacrificial lamb in an attempt to erase Community Policing from its perch within the larger police family. After a stunning revelation, Khattak is free to leave and sets his sights on Sarajevo, where a long-ago friend seeks his help. Amira Sarac was said to have died during the war in Bosnia, but there are some loose ends that lead some to believe that she may have worked with the Bluebird Brigade—comprised of female soldiers—for longer than first thought. Peeling back what little is known about Sarac’s final mission, Khattak is able to locate not only her final resting place, but also some interesting tidbits about her past. While nothing will bring Amira Sarac back to those who love her, there’s a chance that her memory will live on for many years. An interesting short story that will surely be of interest to those who have followed the series to date, though there are few major revelations to be found here. Recommended to those who enjoy the Khattak-Getty novels, as well as the reader who likes a quick read to fill a gap.

While Khan has used her three previous novels to tackle major issues with Canada’s acceptance of the Muslim community, this piece is a break from that intensity. Khan offers up the first portion to tie off some threads that have been dangling for a while, including how Khattak will do when faced with some of the revelations related to his actions. While that alone could have made for a great short story, adding the Sarajevo subplot not only lengthened the piece, but gave it some heartfelt depth. Khattak remains his usual self, determined to tell the truth and not allow anyone to derail what he knows to be true. His passion for others shines through, even when some would see him vilified for his actions. Rachel Getty takes a backseat, but it is apparent that her passion to see Khattak receive the accolades he deserves surely strengthens the relationship she has with her superior. The reader is also permitted another small glimpse into her personal life, when her father makes an appearance at the hearings. The story flew by and proved to be as entertaining as it was compact. While I would recommend reading the series from the beginning, this one could be tried as a standalone to get a handle on the writing, characters, and the larger themes that Khan wishes to put forward in her books. I am eager to get back to the novels, to see what else Khattak and Getty come across as they try to help those in need within Canada’s minority community.

Kudos, Madam Khan, for another great piece. I needed this short story to help me reset my mind, but am ready to dive right in to see what else you have in store for series fans.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Among the Ruins (Rachel Getty and Esa Khattak #3), by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Nine stars

My ongoing exploration of the Canadian police procedural series by Ausma Zehanat Khan took an interesting turn with this novel. Building off some of the series momentum and likely some ideas Khan wanted to put into action, the story shifts away from Canada and into a more complex world where democracy is anything but presumed. After being cleared of any wrongdoing during a recent inquiry, Esa Khattak is taking leave from the Community Policing Unit, if only to reset himself. His choice is to venture into Iran and explore some of its beauty and his cultural roots. While playing tourist, Khattak is approached by a Canadian official, asking that he take some time to explore the death of Iranian-Canadian filmmaker Zehra Sobhani. Known for her controversial films about the authoritarian regime in Iran, Sobhani was killed inside one of the country’s most notorious prisons. Khattak begins trying to piece together the narrative without tipping his hand and letting the regime know what he is trying to accomplish. Khattak has inquisitive questions that will garner needed answers, especially for the family back home, but it also leaves him on the radar of some in positions of power with Iran, where one false move could cost more than a visa suspension. Liaising with his partner, Rachel Getty, back in Canada, Khattak begins to understand a little more about Sobhani and her political views. It becomes apparent that Sobhani has quite the interest in the time when Iran accepted the Shah, whose attempts at democratic renewal fell flat when power intoxicated him. However, the push towards democracy in Iran has returned with the Green Birds, though the regime is eager to repress anything that might lessen its power. The rationale for Sobhani’s murder may be less obvious than first expected, though it will take all that Khattak and Getty can handle to reveal truths buried or ignored in a country where the rules change on a daily basis. Stunning in its delivery, Khan does not disappoint with this third novel in the series, touching on issues that reverberate as much today as when it was written. Recommended for series fans and those readers who are eager to explore authoritarian regimes and their attempts to suppress democratic transparency.

This series has grown on me in short order, touching not only on Canadian police work, but the less understood side of the Islamic world. Khan has chosen to take a look at political expression and suppression inside an authoritarian regime, where dissidents are treated worse that any other criminal. With subplots that touch on a number of key points, Khan forces the reader to think outside the box as they devour this novel. Esa Khattak’s arrival in Iran adds an interesting flavour to the story not seen before now. While Khattak seeks to return to some of his cultural roots, he is thrust into the middle of an active investigation. Still reeling from some of the treatment he faced within the Canadian policing community, Khattak cannot help but notice he is needed, even halfway around the world. His exploration of Zehra Sobhani‘s life and how she agitated her country of birth proves to be of great interest and provides a wonderful contrast with the expectations many readers would expect. Rachel Getty spends most of her time in Canada, exploring the local roots to Sobhani’s larger narrative. She is able to grow by exploring these central tenets and comes to have a better understanding of Islam and its political nuances, particularly when compared to Canada. There are a slew of other characters, including those within Iran’s Revolutionary regime, all of whom illustrate the wonders of these contrasting ways of life. With a subplot focussed on the torture of political prisoners, the story takes on a much darker perspective and provides some interesting approaches to policing in foreign countries. With a narrative that flows well and takes the reader on many interesting journeys, Khan shows just how adept she is at telling a story. Her views are substantiated with ‘pulled from the headlines’ moments and a great deal of history, some of which is explained to the curious reader. While Iran faces many issues in present geo-political realms, there was a time that it had strong democratic views and worked quite effectively on the world scene. Strongly reactionary to suppression, the people of Iran have seen much change over the years and Khan is keen to illustrate this, while making it clear that democracy has never been entirely silenced. Another must-read for those who want to explore other sides of the Islamic world with a Canadian twist.

Kudos, Madam Khan, for another great story. I was pulled in from the opening pages and could not stop reading. I love that I can be entertained and educated in equal measure with such ease.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Unquiet Dead (Rachel Getty and Esa Khattak #1), by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Nine stars

In this series debut by Ausma Zehanat Khan, the reader faces some of the most traumatic storytelling imaginable of a set of recent historical events, offset by a Canadian police procedural that does not wane at any point. Khan writes with a passion and develops a powerful piece that is as much about Canadian society as many other locations around the world. One part of the Toronto Police Service is the Community Relations branch, responsible for working with and solving crimes within the city’s numerous minority groups. Its elite team is Pakistani-born Esa Khattak and city local Rachel Getty. Khattak, well-versed in policing, has experience dealing with the minority community, which is enriched by being a practicing Muslim. He is able to educate Getty, while also allowing her to flourish on her own, as she has grown up in Toronto and see it change over the years. Word comes that Khattak and Getty are to attend the home of Christopher Drayton, who is said to have fallen off a cliff outside his home. An apparent suicide, neither Khattak nor Getty can surmise what brings them here, particularly since Drayton is no minority and the fall seems quite straightforward. Adding to the mystery, there are a number of letters in Drayton’s safe, which have been handed over by his somewhat flighty fiancée. Each piece of correspondence is quite abrasive and the writer seems keen to express violent tendencies, forcing Khattak and Getty to wonder if there is more to the life of Drayton than meets the eye. Further investigating leads to some troubling leads, as well as a handful of potential suspects, each with their own views on Drayton. While Khattak and Getty both face personal adversity throughout the novel, they come to realise that the victim may have a life known to few and a past full of deception. Getting to the heart of the matter, Khattak cannot help but challenge his superiors to better understand why this case was tossed in his lap. It is only then that the full impact of things is realized and the case spirals to new and nefarious levels, while echoing at the highest levels of the Canadian Government. A brilliant series debut, which allows me to see why it received the accolades it did. Highly recommended to the reader who can handle heart-wrenching topics enveloped in a police investigation, as well as those who love procedural novels with a Canadian flavouring.

It was a morning scan of Goodreads that brought Ausma Zehanat Khan to my attention and left me scrambling to get my hands on this series. This debut opens with an interesting spin and the focus of crime in Toronto left me wondering if it would be another ‘all praise Canada’s self-proclaimed best city’ or something I could recommend to others. Khan takes Canadian multiculturalism and mixes it with the subjugation of minorities in such a way that the reader cannot help but want to learn more. The two protagonists come from completely different backgrounds, but mesh together so well. Esa Khattak is a Muslim who has a great deal of police experience and had witnessed minority disenfranchisement first hand. His desire to set things right is only part of his impetus for being on the Community Relations team, though he is happy to educate his much younger partner about the ways of the world for those not so well-off. He struggles with his faith, his personal beliefs, and his need for facts throughout this novel, though is far from rigid in his views on all subjects. Rachel Getty’s life has been anything but easy, though it differs greatly from that of her partner. Getty has seen much in her young life, particularly with an abusive father who tried to pigeonhole her in a certain way and a brother who’s gone missing after finding solace in drugs. Getty seeks to learn from Khattak but also brings her own perspective to events, such that she can be teacher as well as pupil. She tries to come to her assigned tasks with an open mind in a city (and country) that remains fixated on the Anglo-Saxon way of living. There are a handful of other characters whose depiction adds layers to the story that I cannot put properly into words. I will hold back, so as not to spoil some of the narrative that weaves its way through the well-established chapters, but the reader should pay particular attention to those who do not seek the limelight and listen to the story they have to tell. The narrative was amazing and I was drawn to the story from the opening pages. Twists and turns throughout, as well as detailed descriptions of events that many could not even fathom fill the pages of this book. Some will run away and call ‘not for me, too violent’, though it is something that cannot be hidden and no reader should ostrich themselves. The uncomfortable is the only way that Khan can truly tell the tale of of the unquiet dead. Those who listen are better off for it, in my humble, Canadian opinion.

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons