“The Unquiet Dead” and “The Language of Secrets,” by Ausma Zehanat Khan
Before she became a detective novelist, Ausma Zehanat Khan earned a Ph.D. in international human rights law. She worked with refugees and taught human rights law at Northwestern University. She edited the high-profile Muslim Girl magazine, a relatable, modern read for Muslims and non-Muslims alike that was launched by a high school girl fed-up with misleading misconceptions about Islam.
Then came the crime stories: Khan’s fiction stars Inspector Esa Khattak, a Muslim Toronto cop of Pakistani descent who handles sensitive cases surrounding minorities. He may be a made-up hero, but these stories serve up a hefty dose of true crime inspired by news-making headlines.
Delving into her first novel, “The Unquiet Dead,” an Indie Next Pick that just launched in paperback, reveals deeper threads in Khan’s personal, and now creative, trajectory. She is writing smart, genre-bending crime stories and giving mainstream America a thoughtful window on modern Muslim life.
While unraveling a mysterious Toronto death, “The Unquiet Dead” delves deeply into the 1990s Bosnian genocide, an investigation that was central to her academic work. It unearths the Balkans’ unmentionable horrors, while reconstructing the misfortunes of a man who drops dead in a quiet suburban neighborhood. The reader is left to ponder where justice has been served.
In Khan’s new novel, “The Language of Secrets,” the story returns to Khattak and Canada's Community Policing Section during an investigation of a local terrorist cell which is planning a New Year's Day attack. An undercover informant has been murdered at the group’s training camp, and Khattak’s own partner, Detective Rachel Getty, heads undercover into a mosque. The ensuing personal, political and ideological complexities multiply, and Islamophobia and the new millennium’s war against terrorism are stories being shaped in the limelight. The intertwined social realities are as nuanced and complex as the crimes. No one’s passions go unchecked.
Khan is creating a fresh new breed of detective stories that beg discussion. Her insightful, engrossing tales serve up modern perspectives, artfully packed inside crime fiction, from which we shouldn’t dare turn away.
Khan is set to discuss her books at 7 p.m. June 13 in Library Hall at Bud Werner Memorial Library, a free event that is part of the library’s ongoing Library Author Series.
“Trouble Behind Glass Doors,” by Walter Bargen
Walter Bargen was Missouri’s first poet laureate. His poetry is modern and reflective, recognizable in the everyday and every blindsided emotion. There is nothing stodgy about the crisp, poetic observations in “Trouble Behind Glass Doors” — a book of written words that evokes the contemporary notion of “spoken word.”
These are short stories, revealed in concise, gripping prose. The quiet poems are screaming to be read, and heard, out loud.
Bargen will give a free poetry reading and performance at 7 p.m. June 7 in Library Hall.
Jennie Lay is the adult programs coordinator at the Bud Werner Memorial Library.
These books are available at the Bud Werner Memorial Library and Off the Beaten Path Bookstore.