Among the Ruins is more spy novel than crime fiction. It’s packed with subterfuge and shadow lurkers. And sneaky sneaks. And tricks. Tricks on the reader, tricks on the characters.
I saw Ausma Zehanat Khan at the 2017 Vancouver Writers Festival, and she seems like a very thoughtful and clever writer. She talked about how she loves to make trouble for her main character, Canadian police detective Esa Khattak, and I see her point. She makes big trouble for him. Pot stirrer, I think we can call her. This is not the first book he’s appeared in, and if he gets in trouble on the same level in the others, we should worry about the author’s mean streak.
In Among the Ruins, beleaguered Khattak is in Iran, on forced leave from his Community Policing department. There, he’s approached by someone who claims to work for the Canadian government about a murdered woman, a filmmaker named Zahra Sohani. His mysterious visitor wants him to investigate her murder. Presumed murder. She was last seen outside of a notorious Iranian prison. Esa doesn’t want to get involved. He’s in a foreign country where protest and acts against the government are dealt with harshly.
But he has a great compassion for the filmmaker and through a series of events, begins an investigation that puts him in contact with a group of former students who protest and smuggle information out of the country. He embroils his partner at home, and his friend, who send him covert messages. Just in case anyone is listening.
Like all thrillers, the plot is layered, complex and sometimes confusing and no one (well, almost no one) is who they appear to be. I really found the setting fascinating and the descriptions of place and culture to be comprehensive and sensitive—and beautiful.
I think that aside from causing trouble for Esa, the author enjoys causing trouble with the many women in his life. Seriously, every female character in this book has a thing for him. He must be an extremely charming guy. Even if trouble follows him around.