The Best Book I Read This Month: Among the Ruins by Ausma Zehanat Khan


The best book I read this month was the third book in my new favorite mystery series. The series, by Ausma Zehanat Khan, centers on Inspector Esa Khattak of the Toronto police and his junior partner, Rachel Getty. Khattak and Getty make up the Community Policing division, their purpose is to serve as liaisons between the police and Toronto's Muslim community. Khattak, who is Muslim himself, struggles to balance the requirements of his job with his faith. That struggle is part of what makes him such a compelling character.

Each book in the series (so far) has focused on a different aspect of Muslim history or experience. The first book, The Unquiet Dead, builds a mystery around the Bosnia genocide of the 1990s. The second, The Language of Secrets, focuses on the radicalization of Muslims. The third book, Among the Ruins, transplants Khattak to Iran, where he encounters the Green Movement and the nation's oppressive regime as he tries to unravel the truth about the death of an Iranian-Canadian filmmaker.

It's not necessary to read the first two books in order to follow the action of Among the Ruins. The story is self-contained and stands on its own. Most of what the reader needs to know from the previous books, Khan summarizes here. She also shares enough about Iranian history for the reader to understand the socio-political context of the story and historical sites where the action plays out. The mystery, itself, was satisfying, well-plotted with plenty of twists and turns and not quite going where I'd expected it to go.

The Shah Mosque and Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Esfahan, Iran, where Esa Khattak spends most of  Among the Ruins . Photo by Murchundra/iStock / Getty Images   

The Shah Mosque and Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Esfahan, Iran, where Esa Khattak spends most of Among the Ruins. Photo by Murchundra/iStock / Getty Images


Most of Khattak's part of the story takes place in Esfahan (Isfahan), a beautiful city that is home to Naqsh-e Jahan Square and the Shah Mosque. I very much enjoyed getting to "visit" such a historic city, since I'll likely never be able to visit it in real life.

This whole series, in general, has made me realize how prevalent the trope of "Muslim as villain/terrorist" has infiltrated our entertainment. Nearly every TV show I watch--and those I don't--fall prey to this mindset. It's in our political discourse and our news coverage. And it does a huge disservice to the Muslim community. As Khan's series illustrates, the Muslim community, like any other community, has its share of heroes and victims and bystanders and yes, villains, too. And I think we could do with more works of art--books, films, television shows--that depict this reality instead of falling for the easy stereotype.