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AMONG THE RUINS
by Ausma Zehanat Khan
Minotaur, February 2017
368 pages
$25.99
ISBN: 1250096731


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In the third volume of the Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty series, author Ausma Zehanat Khan once again explores current and past events that have shaped Canada's pluralistic society. Khattak, originally from Afghanistan, has left Canada to search for peace. Fluent in Farsi, he has traveled on his Pakistani passport and wants to explore the beauties of the country as a tourist. But a strange letter has been delivered to his guest house door, one that promises he will soon have a story to tell and advises him to hide the letter or risk great danger. Someone knows who he is and wants something from him. "We are bound together, chained" it says.

While he wants only to heal himself, he soon meets a Canadian woman who has a job for him to do - an official job, but done in secret. A Canadian-Iranian filmmaker whose documentary about the stolen election of 2009 and the fate of young protestors who thought they could make a difference has recently returned to Iran to make another film. She was arrested when filming outside a notorious prison. Days later, her body was left outside her family's house in Teheran, with signs that she had been tortured, raped, and beaten to death. The Canadian government is quite sure who is responsible for her murder, but they need proof. Khattak's vacation is over, but having a case to pursue may be just the redemption he seeks.

With the help of his partner, Rachel Getty, digging up clues at home and the assistance of a group of brave young dissidents in Iran, he begins to untangle the clues that reach back to the reign of the Shah and the legacy of Western intervention, all while courting invisible threats. Meanwhile the letters keep coming, describing what it's like inside the prison where the filmmaker was killed, describing what happens there with devastating detail.

Khan has created a twisty mystery and a well-paced investigation, but the portrayal of Iran is the heart of this story. The author, who holds a PhD in international human rights law, doesn't hold back as she brings the country's contradictions vividly to life the serene beauty of ancient mosques and classic poetry alongside the savage brutality of a repressive regime providing just enough of modern Iran's recent history to give readers grounding as they travel with Khattak through the slippery, shape-shifting society where somebody is always watching and things are rarely what they seem.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, November 2016

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