MysteryPeople Q&A with Ausma Zehanat Khan

 

Ausma Zehanat Khan first appeared on our radar with her crime fiction debut, The Unquiet Dead, introducing the handsome Esa Khattak and the sporty Rachel Getty. The two are partners in a special Canadian community policing unit dedicated to sensitive cases involving minority communities. In The Unquiet Dead, they tackle a case involving war criminals, Balkan ghosts, and the intersection of private and public suffering. In The Language of SecretsKhattak and Getty go undercover in a a mosque controlled by a charismatic leader suspected of planning a violent attack – and engaged to Khattak’s sister. In Khan’s third novel to feature the duo, Among the RuinsKhattak just wants to enjoy a nice vacation in Iran, but gets recruited by the Canadian secret service to look into the untimely death of a Canadian citizen and activist filmmaker. Ausma was kind enough to let us ask her a few questions about the series. 

  • Interview by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

“I have this set of stories I want to tell based on my background in human rights law and my continuing commitment to human rights issues. It’s important to me personally because these are stories that rarely see the light, or that when they do, they’re depicted through a perspective that I don’t recognize as authentic.”

Molly Odintz: Rachel Getty is my favorite contemporary sidekick – she’s practical, sporty, and is always game to help Esa Khattak both with his assigned work and his efforts to outwit his superiors. She seems to be the average joe of the novel, intended to balance out Esa Khattak’s impressively erudite mind. Is she a Watson, to Esa’s Sherlock? Tell us about the dynamics between Rachel and Esa. 

Ausma Zehanat Khan: That’s such a lovely compliment, thank you! Rachel is definitely Esa’s counterpoint, and her story is as important to the books as Esa’s is. I try to have these characters draw each other out, and to serve as foils for each other—I think Rachel is braver than Esa when it comes to personal conflicts and entanglements. She doesn’t always get things right, but she’s much more willing to take chances than he is, though both characters will continue to develop as they grow closer over time. I see Rachel as quite independent of Esa, and as an equal contributor to their crime-solving efforts. I think she also helps interpret Esa and humanize him to my readers.

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International Crime Fiction Pick: POLICE AT THE STATION AND THEY DON’T LOOK FRIENDLY by Adrian McKinty

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

9781633882591We read a wide array of international detective fiction here at MysteryPeople, and, of course, we each have our favorites. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day (and even more in honor of the year-round excellence that defines Irish crime fiction) we’re highlighting some work, past and present, from our favorite Irish detective novelists. Last Thursday, Scott Montgomery took us through an underappreciated new classic – Cross, by Ken Bruen. Today, we’re diving into Adrian McKinty’s latest Sean Duffy novel, Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly, released this March, and which just so happens to feature a few words of praise for the author on the back cover from yours truly.

Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy series, set in the 80s in Northern Ireland, weaves real events (such as Margaret Thatcher’s attempted assassination, the closing of the Delorian factory, and Muhammed Ali’s visit to the troubled region) together with fiendishly plotted mysteries. McKinty doesn’t use his crime fiction to paint a black and white portrait of good and evil – his settings are too historically messy, his characters too finely crafted, to devolve into stereotype. In McKinty’s Duffy series, paramilitaries commit petty crimes for personal reasons; corrupt officials occasionally compensate for their fall from grace with a touch of honor; policemen steal drugs from the evidence room…In short, no easy line exists between the personal and the political, and even though most plotlines trace back to MI5  or the IRA, it’s never for the reasons one would think.

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International Crime Fiction Pick: Leonardo Padura’s Havana Noir Quartet

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

Once upon a time, on the sixth floor of UT Austin’s Perry-Castaneda Library, where all the best international detective fiction on the UT campus resides, I first discovered Leonardo Padura’s Havana Quartet, featuring handsome, scruffy and jaded detective Mario Conde. I hadn’t realized that the dusty volumes I devoured between reading assignments were considered modern classics of Cuban fiction, nor did I figure out that, at the time, the books had just received their first publication in US markets – filled with details of Cuban suffering, they also signaled glimmerings of a future detente between Cuba and the US. Now that the Cuban miniseries adapted from the Havana Quartet has reached Netflix under the US title “Four Seasons in Havana,” U.S. audiences are primed to enjoy both the books and their skillful adaptation to the screen (US networks are rumored to have an English-language version in development). The actors bring to life characters I’ve known for years in books, and I can’t recommend the two in combination enough.

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International Crime Fiction: Spotlight on Spain

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

2016’s been a prolific year for crime fiction set in Spain, ranging from tales of 16th century rebellion against the Inquisition to 1970s punk protests of Franco’s fascist regime. The volumes below remind us that, in Spanish history, just as in the Pyrenees, there are many highs and lows. All make for fascinating backdrops…to murder. 

9781101982730Devils of Cardona by Matthew Carr 

The Spanish king sends a trusted converso judge, Bernardo de Mendoza, to investigate a priest’s bloody murder in a region known for the tolerance of the local gentry and the suspicions of the local Inquisition. More murders have occurred by the time the investigating judge and his party arrive – the mutilated corpses of four drovers point a finger at the area’s former Muslim inhabitants, yet Mendoza suspects the murders stem from another force looking to persecute Moriscos, or Muslims forced to convert to Catholicism. This story speaks to the brutality of the 16th century and the rising xenophobia of our own day. With The Devils of Cardona, Matthew Carr has created a visceral historical mystery and a passionate plea for tolerance. You can find copies on our shelves or via bookpeople.com

9781616956288Blood Crime by Sebastia Alzamora

While I normally read about anarchist Barcelona from the other side, I thoroughly enjoyed this bizarre tale of bloody murder, told from the perspective of priests attempting to leave Republican Spain and join their brethren in the South of France. As they negotiate with an anarchist leader whose sister, herself a nun, has convinced him to aid in their escape, a vampire picks off priests and altar boys amidst the chaos. A strangely endearing mixture of gothic horror, murder mystery, and political commentary, originally published in Catalan and brought to US audiences by SoHo Press. Copies are available via special order in-store or via bookpeople.com

9781501131677The Sleeping World by Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes

This political thrill-ride of a novel follows a group of teens who attack a policeman at a protest in 1970s Spain, and must go on the run and hope that a regime change happens sooner, rather than later. Along the way, they discover lingering graffiti tags from the protagonist’s disappeared brother, mapping a path of mourning for the unnaturally lost across the landscape. Fuentes vividly recreates a time of massive shifts in Spanish politics and the rebellious power of a punk-rock lifestyle under a fascist regime. You can find copies on our shelves or via bookpeople.com

9781632061096The Winterlings by Cristina Sanchez-Andrade

After beguiling Spanish critics and winning the English Pen Award, The Winterlings, an eerie tale of lingering secrets from Cristina Sanchez-Andrade, now makes its way across the pond by our friends at Restless Books. The Winterlings tells the strange story of two sisters who return to their village after a long exile. Their initial reason for leaving? Their father’s brutal murder during the Spanish Civil War. Their reason for returning? A secret to the curious villagers, but not to the sisters… You can find copies on our shelves or via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Review: PRECIOUS & GRACE by Alexander McCall Smith

– Post by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

9781101871355Precious Ramotswe and her sidekick, Grace Makutsi, are back in Alexander McCall Smith’s latest (his 17th!) installment of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Titled simply Precious and Grace, our heroines’ latest adventures are told in McCall Smith’s signature charming and deceptively simple prose. I’ve been a fan of the series (indeed, of all McCall Smith’s work) since the series was introduced 13 years ago and the latest doesn’t disappoint.

Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi (who has recently been promoted to agency co-director) are approached by a young Canadian woman who spent her early childhood in Botswana and wants the agency’s assistance in recovering important pieces of her life there. She can provide only a faded photograph, but Precious and Grace set out to find the house that the woman used to live in as well as the nanny who took care of her all those years ago. But as their detective work uncovers some unexpected developments, the ladies are forced to evaluate whether some truths may be better left uncovered.

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Communities, Prejudice and Housing Estates: MysteryPeople Q&A with Joanna Cannon

  • Interview and Review by MysteryPeople Contributor Scott Butki

 

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep eases slowly into its mystery. In a neighborhood where something is clearly amiss, two girls explore their community, asking questions. Grace, who is 10, serves as the narrator for the girls’ explorations.

As the book kicks off, the wife of Mr. Creasy, an important member of the community, has disappeared. As the townspeople navigate a British town during a heat wave in the summer of 1976, the girls and the reader wonder why the residents aren’t as concerned about this disappearance as you would suspect. It becomes clear the community is not a fan of Mr. Creasy, or his wife, for reasons not immediately made clear.

The mystery of Mrs. Creasy’s disappearance sparks the girls’ interest in understanding their community. They convince those on the block to let them come in their homes and visit and ask questions. Some of their questions are about finding God; others try to ascertain, essentially, What Happened.

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Murder in the Afternoon Book Club to Discuss: SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES by F. H. Batacan

 

– Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

9781616956639What do Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 (Soviet Union), Philip Kerr’s The Pale Criminal (Nazi Germany), and F. H. Batacan’s Smaller and Smaller Circles (Philippines) have in common? They are all superb examples of serial killer narratives where political agendas worm their way into an investigation, and they all  feature serial killers allowed by state authorities to run amok. This, to me is an essential quality in any plausible crime novel about serial killers, but I wanted to provide some real world examples.

Child 44 features a based-on-real-life serial  killer allowed to get away with innumerable murders because the Soviet authorities believed there could be no such thing as a serial killer in such a revolutionary utopia. The Pale Criminal showcases how scapegoating can lead an investigation off-track, as a detective seeks a serial killer while the Nazis use a series of murders for propaganda purposes.

In Smaller and Smaller Circles, set in the late 90s, two Jesuit priests, stunned by the failure of local police to solve a series of brutal murders of young boys in their community, decide to track down the killers themselves.  Unlike Child 44 or The Pale Criminal, however, Smaller and Smaller Circles has been hailed as the first Filipino crime novel, and by extension the first to use the genre for a social critique of inequality in Manila.

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