Khan’s winning Canadian cops return—and this time, it’s really personal.
Khan’s hero, Detective Esa Khattak, a second-generation Canadian Muslim, and his young partner, Rachel Getty, are back from her debut novel (The Unquiet Dead, 2015) to investigate a terrorist cell planning a series of devastating attacks. The stakes for Khattak become agonizingly personal when an estranged friend is murdered by the cell, his relatively green partner goes undercover as a convert, and his difficult-at-best little sister becomes engaged to the cell’s handsome, charismatic leader. Soap opera elements abound, but Khan’s sophisticated grasp of the religious, political, and social issues at play grounds the narrative in a thoughtful dissection of the conflicting motives underlying the various players’ actions; thoughtful to a fault, occasionally, as the characters tend to pedantically verbalize these complex ideas in lieu of engaging in recognizable human dialogue. Still, rhetoric comes with the territory, and the story functions effectively as a mystery thriller, as Khan deploys an impressive depth of knowledge about the subject matter (the cell’s plot is based on a real-life scheme by the so-called "Toronto 18," an extremist group that intended to attack Canadian Parliament in 2006), trusting the reader to keep up with context cues when confronted by unfamiliar ideas and scenarios. The characters are well-drawn and pleasingly varied: Khattak is a compelling protagonist, a cerebral, reserved Muslim comfortable with his faith but not ruled by it, and the buoyant, hockey-loving Getty is an endearing foil. The cell members are afforded fully dimensional personalities and varied passions, ideals, and justifications for their actions; everyone has their reasons, Khan understands, and her nuanced exploration of those reasons elevates her second novel above the general run of detective fiction.
A smart, measured, immersive dive into a poorly understood, terrifyingly relevant subculture of violent extremism.