editor's choice

Beautiful words – The Language of Secrets


Good crime fiction usually grabs you from the very first page, immersing you instantly in the author’s world. Great books grab you from the very first words: Ausma Zehanat Khan’s excellent The Language of Secrets does just that.

Set in twenty-first century Canada, on paper the book is a tale of our times, its storyline focusing on an Islamic terrorist group’s plan to wreak havoc on a western nation, and the race by Khan’s protagonists, Esa Khattak, head of the Community Policing Section (CPS), and his partner, Rachel Getty, to thwart it. In reality, it’s so much more and that’s largely down to the quality of Khan’s writing and a tightly conceived, multi-layered plot in which large questions are posed about loyalty, faith, family, ethnicity and nationality.

The book opens with the brutal, but rather poetic death of Mohsin Dar, a deep-cover agent for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Khattak, who’s under public scrutiny for his actions in a previous case, is called in to investigate, partly because he and Mohsin were once close friends, but mainly because he is Muslim and the case is particularly sensitive. Mohsin uncovered plans for a major terrorist attack on Toronto and Mohsin’s father is a belligerent, but well-known and influential broadcaster whose comments could potentially derail the almost two-year operation. Getty is sent in undercover, while Khattak tries to discover the truth – at great personal and professional risk to them both.

Khan carefully builds her characters into believable, flawed human beings, driven by different cultural, political and personal agendas. At the heart of the book though is Khattak, a man who straddles several worlds and whose actions are directed by a strong faith and questioning mind, but also an inherent loyalty  to those he loves best and an unwielding drive, above all else, to do what he believes right.

Language, as the title suggests, plays a significant part in the book, and we get a sense that even the most beautiful words can be twisted to be something other than their original meaning by those manipulating them for their own ends – whether it be a lyrical poem or an important and influential religious tract.

In The Language of Secrets, Khan creates an action-filled, beautifully written book, an authentic evocation of place, great characters and a relevant plot. It’s a standout novel in a year of truly exceptional crime fiction.


 The Language of Secrets | Ausma Zehanat Khan | No Exit |

26 July 2018 | paperback | £7.99 | also available in other formats


Acknowledgements: This review is published as part of a virtual book tour organised by Anne Cater for the publisher. Many thanks to No Exit for providing a proof and the cover image. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved.


Also of interest: ‘The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’;We should all be feminists’; Teresa Solana’s darkly funny Catalan noir – women in translation‘; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir‘; ‘Ian Ridley: The Literary Shed Q&A;Johana Gustawsson’s Keeper – indie publisher Orenda does it again‘;  ‘Finlay’s last stand – Matt Johnson’s End Game‘;  ‘I am have agony, half hope …‘; ‘20 books this summer challenge.


This review is copyright © 2018 by The Literary Shed. All rights are reserved. All opinions expressed are our own. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please contact us for permission and provide the necessary credit. Thank you so much. We welcome your feedback.



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