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'The Language of Secrets' (Minotaur) by Ausma Zehanat Khan.

The hot-button issues of religion and culture — sometimes wrapped in controversy and suspicion — make a compelling foundation in Ausma Zehanat Khan's second novel about Esa Khattak, head of Toronto's Community Policing Section that handles minority issues.

In her second, thought-provoking novel, Khan continues to show how Esa is divided by his devotion to his Muslim faith and community and his role as a police detective. He is constantly being scrutinized, suspected of being a traitor by both his Muslim community and by the police force.

In "The Language of Secrets," Esa's loyalties are tested again when he is assigned to investigate the murder of Mohsin Dar, an estranged friend who had infiltrated a Muslim terrorist cell. As Esa looks into Mohsin's life, his partner, Sgt. Rachel Getty, goes undercover in the mosque, claiming she is considering converting. But Esa's investigation is hampered personally and professionally. His independent sister, Ruksh, has been secretly engaged to the mosque's leader, Hassan Ashkouri. Inspector Ciprian Coale, who is investigating the terrorist plot, purposely keeps vital aspects of the investigation from Esa — partly because he doesn't trust Esa's loyalties and also because the two men are enemies.


With its thought-provoking, intelligent plot, "The Language of Secrets" even surpasses Khan's superb debut, "The Unquiet Dead."

"The Language of Secrets" delivers a powerful insight into the Muslim community, exploring those who are peace-loving and proud of their heritage as well as those whose pride transforms into violence. Yet Khan never stoops to a treatise about the Muslim world while smoothly incorporating a look at the culture, politics and poetry.

Khan's affinity for character studies reaches its zenith in the complicated Esa, an honorable man constantly torn by his choices, yet sure of himself. "It's the price you pay for doing what is necessary," he says. "For what you think is right. ... And for knowing where you belong."

Using a 2006 failed terrorist plot that was uncovered by Canadian law enforcement, Khan delivers an action-packed police procedural complemented by strong characters with believable motives.