Among the Ruins is Khan’s third novel featuring the unusual Canadian detecting team of Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty. Once again, Khan has crafted a story that surprises with its ability to reveal and educate issues of the world at large within the framework of a mystery.
After the powerful and sobering ending to last year’s The Language of Secrets, Khattak is on leave from Canada’s Community Policing Department. Estranged at this time from his sister, who figured heavily in that book, he travels to Iran to gather peace from his cultural heritage in the country’s gardens and museums.
But when he’s approached by a Canadian agent and asked to look into the death of a famous Canadian-Iranian documentary filmmaker, he finds himself embroiled in the murder of Zahra Sobhani, killed while trying to have a political prisoner released.
To this end, he enlists Rachel’s help without government sanction. The people Esa meets in his investigation form a microcosm of the many groups in Iran, from officers of the regime, to a ring of young dissidents whose actions have landed several of them in jail, suffering abuse, horrific torture, and even death. Many are there on false charges and are tried without legal counsel.
Back in Canada, it’s Rachel’s job to visit Zahra’s son and other family while Esa delicately tries to probe into the woman’s murder at the infamous Evin prison. It seems her death is a politically-motivated one, but Rachel soon uncovers other possibilities which are linked to the past. It will involved a museum, jewels, and the Shah of Iran. Rachel will need Esa’s high-placed friend to help with her investigation, but it soon becomes apparent she needs to travel to Iran.
The pervading tension intensifies and the threads come together after Rachel travels to meet up with Esa in Iran, where she goes undercover to find the details and evidence they require. It’s a cat-and-mouse game with Iran officials at their back, and the real threat of being thrown into prison themselves haunting their every move and upping the tension.
Khan allows readers to discover what Esa discovers: that there is real beauty and history to a culture that has been ransacked by extremists, both in their physical monuments and achievements, and in the poisoning of the minds of most of the world against a culture and tradition trying to live an ethical life.
Through the plot lines, Khan successfully explores the pressures on western Muslims who are seen by the world through the lens of the faction of ultra-conservative extremists who garner the news. Bringing Esa to Iran places him, with his Sunni background, in the minority in a Shia country. The detective will be forced to examine his own assumptions in a more critical manner, as he and Rachel unravel a decades-old mystery with a startling conclusion, at the same time as he strives to protect his partner and protege amidst the interplay the encounter between politics and religion, revenge and deceit, theft and greed.
Khan lovingly describes the beauty of the mosques and museums the duo visit, while not shying away from the violence some factions will inflict. It’s this dichotomy that makes the Iran of today spring to life under her talented pen. This a complex mystery that will have readers glued to the page. Highly recommended.