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A DEADLY DIVIDE
by Ausma Zehanat Khan
Minotaur, February 2019
384 pages
$27.99
ISBN: 1250298288


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty have investigated many crimes that grew out of fear and hatred rooted in bigotry. The backgrounds to their stories are varied: the Balkan war, home-grown radicalization, dissidents in Iran, migrants in Greece hoping for a better life. In the fifth book of this absorbing series, the team doesn't have far to travel, just over the border of the neighboring province, Quebec, and into a maelstrom of racist violence. A mass shooting in a mosque has left an unknown number of worshipers injured and many killed. One of the weapons used was found in the hands of a priest who was at the scene, but an African immigrant has been arrested by the local police, who seem all too unwilling to admit that tides of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim sentiment fanned by a popular radio host may have something to do with it.

As usual, Khan doesn't reach for simple explanations. The charming and down-to-earth Quebecois detective leading the investigation seems oblivious to the racism around him. After all, Quebec has had to fight to retain its distinctive culture, surrounded by Anglophone Canada. The university up on the hill has brought in wealthy international students from the Middle East and North Africa, changing the complexion of the community, threatening its identity. A secretive group, the Wolf Allegiance, promises to defend pure-laine Quebecoise women from immigrants, with violence if need be, the kind of men so often called "lone wolves" forming a pack. Muslim students who run a radio show to clap back against the popular talk show host are constantly under threat. Then there are the Goth girls with matching tattoos of a blood-tipped fleur-de-lis who seem to be defying all the cultural codes.

The intricate plot avoids simple answers, creating a web of complicated motivations and possibilities. Resisting easy and simple explanations for violence, Khan looks beneath the surface at the dark currents flowing through communities, across borders, through social media, and over the airwaves. "I wrote this book," she explains in an author's note, "because I have long studied the incipient and incremental nature of hate and the fatal places hate often takes us. I wrote it to illuminate the connections between rhetoric, polemics, and action . . . The things we choose to turn a blind eye to because we assess their impact as negligible on our lives especially when we are not members of any vulnerable group have the

power to harm us all more deeply than we know." It's tempting to turn to mysteries, where justice is generally served and conflict is brought to a resolution, when the world seems overwhelming. Ausma Zehanat Khan uses the conventions of the genre to explore the world we live in, one that badly needs more justice.

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

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, December 2018

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