Review: Among the Ruins, Ausma Zehanat Khan

As I think I have said in my reviews of Ausma Zehanat Khan’s previous books, I don’t read a lot of mysteries. When I do get hooked on a mystery series, I don’t tend to review each one, but I’m making an exception (as you can see!) for Among the Ruins, the third in Ausma Zehanat Khan’s Esa Khattak / Rachel Getty series.

Among the Ruins

I was initially drawn into Khan’s work because of my general desire to support POC authors working in genre fiction. But I’ve stayed with the series because each book has done such a beautiful job of incorporating world events into the mystery: The murder victim in The Unquiet Dead appears to have ties with the Srebrenica Massacre of 1995; in The Language of Secrets, Khattak must investigate the death of a police informant at a potential terrorist cell. And in Among the Ruins, Khattak delves into the probably-political death of an Iranian woman whose documentary on the Green Revolution rendered her vulnerable to imprisonment and torture by the regime. In every case, Khan does a beautiful job of putting the history in service of the mystery without shortchanging the complexities of the horrors her characters are investigating.

It’s also lovely to watch Esa and Rachel’s worlds expand in this book. Though the cast perpetually changes jobs, ability to help with the mystery, and personal connections with Rachel and Esa, Khan never forgets which pieces are on the board. In Among the Ruins, she adds a fun new Plucky Girl Reporter sort of character about whom I hope to hear much more later — the Plucky Reporters in the Amelia Peabody series ended up being two of my favorite people, and not to spoil anything but at least one of them banged a Master Criminal one time.

On a more personal level, Khan captures my exact feelings about Iran in this book, the way I have felt about Iran ever since the Green Revolution happened and I started reading up on Iranian things. Though neither she nor Esa is Iranian, they share a deep admiration for the country’s history and culture, and an equally deep fury at the Iranian ayatollahs’ oppression of one of the most vibrant cultures the world has ever known. At one point, Rachel visits the following mosque:

That is not a CGI image from some newΒ Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-type movie. It is a non-pretend real actual mosque called Nasir al-Mulk Mosque. I encourage you to google it: I actually picked one of the most muted pictures I could find, because if you google this place your instinct is that it cannot be real.1 Here’s what Rachel thinks about it:

There was something to be learned from the cosmic radiance of her surroundings. Her mind was seized by a painful imagining: What must it be like to know your civilization possessed of such celestial beauty, and to find yourself the object of diminishment?

Among the Ruins gave me feelings, y’all. One of these days this oppressive regime of the ayatollahs will be done, and when that happens I am going to go there and see these damn mosques.

  1. It is real. It is also not the most astonishing mosque in the city of Shiraz, where it’s located.
  • Jeanne

    I feel about that photo the way I feel about the ones I’ve seen of St Basil’s in Moscow and also the way I felt every day I drove around the Washington DC beltway and saw the white spires of the Mormon Temple in the distance (often with “Surrender Dorothy” spray-painted on the overpass in the foreground). People can make such beautiful things, and I’ll never get more than a glimpse of them from a distance because of the way people act towards each other, often because of their religion (only Mormons are allowed inside the grounds of the temple).

    • JeanPing

      Jeanne, you can go visit the grounds of the Mormon temple. They would like you to! There is a visitor’s center and all, and they will happily tell you all about it, or you can just wander around. People do it all the time. You can’t go inside the temple itself, although if they decide to close down and renovate, they’ll have an open house before the re-dedication. All temples hold open houses for a few weeks before dedications; Oakland will soon be having one after a renovation.

  • Omg, so happy to see this review — I curate my book club’s monthly choices, and our Oct will be dedicated to mysteries. Had been wanting some mysteries featuring POCs and not set in the US/UK. So thank you!

    • You’re welcome!! Let me know if your book club ends up reading it! I want to hear their thoughts. πŸ™‚

  • Aarto

    My goodness, that mosque. Talk about using geometry and color to play off each other! Beautiful πŸ™‚

    I just read the first book in this series based on your review of the last one! I wasn’t blown away, really, but I also appreciate the author’s way of putting world events into the book. I too shall continue!

    • I think the books are getting better and better as they go along — and more broadly, as you say, I just really enjoy that she situates her book in international and historical contexts. I always learn stuff when I read!

  • Rachel

    Thanks for sharing your review! I enjoy books that incorporating world events into the mystery of the plot. Makes it that much more interesting. And that mosque is so beautiful!

    • Isn’t it gorgeous? There’s another mosque in Shiraz that’s got mosaics made out of mirror? Which is apparently even more dazzling.

  • Amanda

    This series! I’m still not over the Unquiet Dead to be completely honest. I cannot remember another mystery that moved me so much. Well until this one – this had some really hard parts to read. This series is fantastic and I am really hopeful for her new book too! If you follow Ausma Zehanat Khan on facebook she’s been posting a lot of photos of the places Esa is at in this book. They are so incredibly beautiful.

  • I really like books that incorporate real events too! I love nonfiction because I can learn new things and it’s an added bonus to be able to do that with fiction too πŸ™‚