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  • Disappointing

    2.5 stars A little over a year ago, I wrote probably one of my most glowing reviews ever for The Unquiet Dead, Ausma Zehanat Khan's spectacular launch of her Rachel Getty and Esa Khattak series. I concluded that review with an expectation that this would be "a terrific new mystery series." I am sorry to say that the second entry, The Language of Secrets, crushed my expectations. The Unquiet Dead centered around the Bosnian war, and Khan's expertise as a scholar of international human rights law, for whose dissertation the 1995 Srebrenica massacre served as a main focus, was evident in every scene. In contrast, The Language of Secrets revolves around a terrorist cell composed of your standard, run-of-the-mill, radical Muslim extremists. The plot is confusing, the characters wooden, and the tone that of a moderate Muslim stridently distancing himself from the barbaric acts of his co-religionists: "He knew what he was, what his community was. So different from what he saw on the news nightly—the lone wolves, the well-armed gunmen, the rabid mobs, the blistering flags, the overturned tanks, the rocket launchers, the blood-doomed faces, the cries in the street, the slogans of death chanted by those with nothing to lose." The titular "language of secrets" is that of poetry, but Khan's attempts to import poetry into her own writing are both clunky and trite: "This was the missing context for the spreading scourge of enmity and hate, the broken and sprawling politics of the Middle East. The generations mislaid by decades of war, by centuries of struggle. The splintered past, the crippled future, nothing to gain, less to give. A bruised carnation planted in a cup. A rose exchanged for a rifle. And the round of bread traded for both, in a fleeting moment of innocence." I am not inherently opposed to police detectives who wax philosophic or lyrical; Batya Gur's Israeli Chief Superintendent Michael Ohayon is a superb example of the breed. Unfortunately, Khattak's episodes of "deep thinking" feel inauthentic; Khan uses him to repeatedly expound upon her theme, explicitly set forth in her Author's Note, that "[t]here is no inherent connection between Islam and terrorism," to the detriment of both her character development and her story. Khan is hardly the first author to fall into this trap; I was constantly reminded of Josh Bazell and his Peter Brown series, in which the intriguing protagonist of Beat the Reaper abruptly became, in Wild Thing, a ventriloquist's dummy for his creator's diatribe on the environment. I had hoped for better from Khan. I received a free copy of The Language of Secrets through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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  • Intriging Story with a Bonus Perspective

    The Language of Secrets I found this book to be characteristically interesting and drew the reader back for more intrigue each evening. I do recommend that one read Ausma Khan’s first book (The Unquiet Dead) initially, in order to gain an appreciation and familiarity with characters Esa and Racheal in the first instance. In the Author’s Note at the end of the book is a surprise bonus for this reader. There are several pages containing a description, facts and perspective on the role of Islam (or lack thereof) in terrorism. A good read in itself, and in fact a good ‘next’ book for Kahn to consider, especially given the increasing concerns of westerners with no knowledge of Islam or Muslims. Somehow I would trust the words of this author.

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