REVIEW: The Language of Secrets by Ausma Zehanat Khan (Getty & Khattak #2)

Series: Rachel Getty and Esa Khattak

Book Number: 2

Read this book for: history connections, prose and poetry well written, terrorist plot, Canadian setting, thriller, murder mystery

Quick Review: A superb follow-up to the first novel in the series, perfectly balancing lyrical prose with intense thriller pacing for a brilliantly-handled, must-read novel.


Detective Esa Khattak heads up Canada’s Community Policing Section, which handles minority-sensitive cases across all levels of law enforcement. Khattak is still under scrutiny for his last case, so he’s surprised when INSET, Canada’s national security team, calls him in on another politically sensitive issue. For months, INSET has been investigating a local terrorist cell which is planning an attack on New Year’s Day but their undercover informant, Mohsin Dar, has been murdered. Khattak used to know Mohsin, and he can’t let this murder slide, so he sends his partner, Detective Rachel Getty, undercover into the unsuspecting mosque which houses the terrorist cell. As Rachel tentatively reaches out into the unfamiliar world of Islam, and begins developing relationships with the people of the mosque and the terrorist cell within it, the potential reasons for Mohsin’s murder only seem to multiply, from the political and ideological to the intensely personal.

THE LANGUAGE OF SECRETS is the second novel in Ausma Zehanat Khan’s stunningly and sensitively written Canadian mystery series following Detective Esa Khattak and his partner Detective Rachel Getty.

Detective Khattak heads the Community Policing section in the RCMP (Canada’s federal police force), investigating crimes that are particularly sensitive to the diverse communities in Ontario, particularly those involving race or religion. The first novel, THE UNQUIET DEAD, focussed on the Bosnian conflict and Srebrenica massacre of 1995. This novel takes on terrorism and extremist Islamic sects with the hallmarks that this series has become known for: a sensitive and nuanced take on the difficult subject matter, multiple investigations wrapped around one another, a somewhat personal connection for Khattak, and a morally ambiguous and difficult set of choices he has to make in order to bring the case to its conclusion.

I have to commend Ausma Zehanat Khan on her incredible handling of a very difficult topic. Terrorism is a subject with a lot more complexity than it is sometimes reduce to, particularly when it is religiously motivated. Khan takes a deep look into the peaceful teachings of Islam, as embodied by Detective Khattak, versus the ways it can be twisted toward violence. It’s smart, multi-layered and actually educational if the reader is not familiar with the history and depth that runs through the narrative of those who practice the Islamic faith. She showcases its beauty and poetry, past history and some of the grievances that those who which to twist it to their own ends often leverage. It’s so skillfully and beautifully done, it was a pleasure to gain a greater cultural understanding — while reading a highly enjoyable mystery-thriller!

The thriller portion of this novel should not be overlooked; Khan has written a tense and complicated plot. On one level, it’s a straightforward murder mystery. But this murder may or may not be connected to a terrorist plot which another team is investigating and Khattak and Getty do not have access to the information from that group. This has the interesting dual effect of hindering their investigation and raising the stakes because there are pieces the other group are obviously missing in trying to stop the plot. Add in a few connections to Khattak and his family and this plot is beautifully woven.

It is also beautifully written, Khan’s lyrical prose studded with a variety of gorgeous Islamic poetry used to great effect. If for no other reason, this novel should be read for her skill in writing.

I highly recommend THE LANGUAGE OF SECRETS and the series — and I can’t wait to read more in this series of well-thought-out, intelligent and suspenseful mysteries!


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