To be read with: tea that is both caffeinated and soothing; you’ll be reading this all night and you’ll be trying hard to remain calm.
This book was everything I could have hoped for from a crime thriller (which is one of my favourite genres). It was fast paced, well written, and the clues were woven in so that some are obvious and make you feel as though you could also be a detective, and others have you slapping your forehead later, since you never saw the twist coming! The bonus of this book is that it is written by a Canadian author and set in and around Toronto. Double bonus in normalizing having a non-white lead detective/dealing with cultural differences and in an every day way and not having it be the climax of the plot.
The plot was sometimes sexy and always dangerous, but it’s really the characters that will keep you invested and reading on into the series. I was thirty pages in and I logged on to the library website to order literally any other book by Ausma Zehanat Khan. The lead detectives are character foils Rachel and Esa: one a tough, hockey player from a dysfunctional home and the other a tall, gorgeous, talented detective that never fails to catch the eye of both suspects and fellow police officers. First, I love that there is a hockey player in the novel, a nice touch of Canadiana without being cheesy or unrealistic. Second, I love that Rachel is the hockey player and Esa is the beauty. Their dynamic together is wonderful. The crime their investigating is stirring for Canadian life, exploring some international roles Canada has played, as well as what life is like here for immigrants rebuilding after a crisis, mainly in reference to the Bosnian refugees of the mid-1990’s. The suspects, witnesses, and peripheral characters in the novel are a clever blend of likeable, provocative and downright loathsome. The interactions between the characters was maneuvered just as skillfully and just as absorbing as the actual mystery itself. I found that at the end of the novel, I wasn’t satisfied with the solving of the case. I wanted to know where the characters were going to go from there.
This novel did not shy away from having a Muslim lead character, nor did it exploit it. It did not make Muslims out to be extremists, or to be saints. Rather, it showed that some people are inherently good, some are bad, and most fall somewhere on the spectrum of both, regardless of religion. We need more literature like this. Literature that chooses not to whitewash things but instead show that characters are far more complex than just their religions. Religion definitely comes in to play, it has since its inception and will continue to for the foreseeable future, however there needs to be depth and tact where this is used and this novel delivers on every level.
If the above paragraph isn’t stimulating for you, this novel is exceptional just in terms of being a crime thriller. The mystery has plenty of suspects and moral ambiguity, things I love in detective fiction. There are twists and turns and expertly used back story that keeps you hooked and turning the pages. I think Ausma Zehanat Khan does a great job of slowly unravelling the mysteries of the detectives private lives, to the extent that the next book could be a precursor about either of the main characters and I think it would be wholly satisfying. I recommend this book entirely, as anyone who has come in contact with me while reading it can attest to. Great Canadian fiction needs to be celebrated and I’m excited for more great works from the author!