Language of Secrets by Ausma Zehanat Khan
St. Martin’s Griffin: February 2, 2016
Source: Free From Library
The Language of Secrets is the second of Khan’s Rachel Getty and Esa Khattak mystery series. After really enjoying the first book, The Unquiet Dead, I was eager to pick up the follow-up. Language of Secrets is just as compassionate and nuanced as the first book, partly because it hits so closely to home for Khattak. Not only is Khattak a Muslim investigating a group suspected of terrorism, his younger sister has just become engaged to the man purported to be the cell’s leader.
Assisting Esa is his partner, Rachel Getty. For Rachel, the case is not so emotional and she’s able to view the suspects with a more objective approach, providing some much needed balance to their investigative process. As part of the investigation, Rachel goes under cover at the mosque where the suspects of the cell appear to have met. It’s when Rachel starts interacting with the suspects that readers start to see the same vulnerabilities that Esa exhibits, and this makes both of them better investigators.
As I mentioned in my review of the first book, Khan’s writing is very similar to Louise Penny as are some of the themes that appear in Language of Secrets. While Penny isn’t usually dealing with cultural issues in the same overt way that Khan is, like Penny, Khan is exploring her characters’ identity and their internal conflicts when solving crimes. It is this intense individual examination that reminds me of Penny’s writing and that continues to stand out in Khan’s sequel. In Language of Secrets it is Esa that is struggling with his identity. Esa is part of the Muslim community in Toronto and his job often puts him at odds with that community. This is especially evident in Language of Secrets when Esa must investigate those that attend a particular mosque. The author dealt with this internal struggle very well and it was perhaps my favourite element to the story telling. Character development is key for me, and this kind of exploration further fleshed out the character of Esa.
The mystery itself was well done and explores some pretty relevant topics; topics that I don’t particularly feel qualified to really dig into. For me, reading Language of Secrets was eye opening because of the fact that Language of Secrets was inspired real life events in Toronto. This isn’t far from home for me, so recognizing the source of inspiration was particularly powerful. Like the first book, the author’s integration of current events is seamless, nuanced, and never falls into the didactic. The suspects to the murder never come across as caricatures and are in fact fully developed characters and the author explores their motivations. The impulse behind the murder is not simple and it was ultimately heart breaking. Language of Secrets is no black-and-white murder mystery and those that enjoy complex and relevant crime stories will find a lot to appreciate about Khan’s writing style and subject matter.
The Language of Secrets is a fantastic follow-up to The Unquiet Dead and this is an author to watch. This series is perfect for fans that not only enjoy character driven mysteries, but also for those that enjoy more lyrical storytelling. Highly recommended.
For what to read while you’re waiting to get your hands on a copy of The Language of Secrets or after you’ve finished, check out my review of the first book in Khan’s series.