Source: Review copy, Netgalley
Publication: 6th February 2020 from No Exit Press
In the aftermath of a mass shooting in a mosque, small town tensions run high. Clashes between the Muslim community and a local faction of radical white nationalists are escalating, but who would have motive and opportunity to commit such a devastating act of violence?
Detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty from Canada’s Community Policing Unit are assigned to this high-profile case and tasked to ensure the extremely volatile situation doesn’t worsen. But when leaked CCTV footage exposes a shocking piece of evidence, both sides of the divide are enraged.
As Khattak and Getty work through a mounting list of suspects, they realise there s far more going on in this small town than anyone first thought…
I am new to Ausma Zehanat Khan’s Toronto based series but I have heard so many good things about these books that I was eager to read the latest paperback, A Deadly Divide.
The series features two community policing detectives, Muslim Esa Khattak and Jewish Rachel Getty. Their respective faiths are critical in these books which deal with racial tensions in contemporary society in Canada and as Khan makes clear, this fictional story is indeed based on real life events.
We are in Quebec where a terrible shooting has occurred in a mosque in the small community of Saint-Isidore-du-Lac. Esa and Rachel, who form a close knit partnership, are sent to be community liaison officers as part of the police team investigating this awful shooting.
Tensions are running very high and it is clear from the outset that this community has a festering sore that has been leaking bile for some time into this Quebecois community. Beneath the surface of this lovely town, is both everyday racism and bigotry, fuelled by outright hatred, anti-semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, right wing nationalism and white supremacy.
This is a recognisable and all too toxic combination, which we feel the more strongly because it happens in a relatively small town which is now grieving even as its citizens look for answers.
Khattak and Getty immediately find themselves at odds with the local police. The local priest, Etienne Roy, is discovered on the scene with a gun, yet the police treat him with kid gloves, whilst an Arabic speaking African, Amadou Duchon, who is on site helping casualties is immediately arrested and roughly handcuffed as a suspect.
The police it seems are already taking sides, skewing the investigation before the evidence has even been established.
Khan’s novel feels horribly relevant in today’s polarised world where Islamaphobia is taking hold and people are genuinely scared of what atrocities will happen next.
Khan’s writing is crisp, intelligent and clear and her insights are disturbing and very thought provoking. As the investigation begins, we find Esa and Rachel struggling to comprehend why the police investigation is proceeding in the way that it is, and Esa himself, in the midst of personal turmoil and self-reflection, finds himself despairing as he questions his future in the face of such depressing attitudes.
Ausma Zehanat Khan’s book looks at the impact of radicalisation and the rise of fascism through the lens of this atrocity and what she presents is a complex picture of how allowing seemingly small crimes to fester can lead to an explosion of hate and bitterness.
She draws her characters well, and the complexity of the issues is addressed very well; the political and emotional responses to the shooting are all too credible. Esa and Rachel have to tread a delicate balance between fear in the Muslim community and the genuine concerns of the community which are being fuelled by rampant racism.
Intertwined with this investigation is a sub plot which places Esa dead centre in the middle of a love triangle and a seriously creepy scenario in which we fear for his life and his sanity.
Rachel, meanwhile, is torn between being drawn to the leader of the local police investigation and questioning his every move.
I was caught up in this tense and intriguing storyline, though left somewhat deflated by the lack of resolution to the sub-plot which I guess is a running story which will be explored further in subsequent books.
Verdict: A convincing exploration of the cross cultural divide with all the attendant prejudices and misconceptions that racial, religious and cultural differences can lead to in this intense explosion of crime and racial prejudice. I loved the complex political manoeuvring and the character exposition which shows just how complicated an investigation of this kind can become. I’m less sure about the romantic entanglements, though this undoubtedly helps to make these characters more fallible.
Ausma Zehanat Khan is the author of The Unquiet Dead, published by St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books, and winner of the Barry Award, the Arthur Ellis Award and the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Best First Novel. Works in her critically acclaimed Esa Khattak/Rachel Getty mystery series include The Language of Secrets, A Death in Sarajevo, Among the Ruins, and A Dangerous Crossing. CrimeReads named Khan one of the Rising Stars of Crime Fiction in the 2010s, and both CrimeReads and Library Journal named A Deadly Divide one of the best crime novels of 2019.