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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Review of A DANGEROUS CROSSING by Ausma Zehanat Khan (New Release)

3.5 Stars 
This is the fourth book in the series featuring Inspector Esa Khattak and Sgt. Rachel Getty.  This time the two go to Greece to look for Audrey Clare, the sister of Esa’s friend Nathan Clare, who has gone missing while helping to resettle Syrian refugees.  Two bodies were found in the offices of her NGO so did Audrey go into hiding in fear for her life or did she run after murdering two people or was she abducted? 

The mystery of Audrey’s disappearance is sufficiently interesting, but it is not difficult to guess the ultimate outcome of the investigation.  Often the ongoing humanitarian crisis takes the spotlight of the narrative.  There is a great deal of information about Assad’s brutality against Syrians, the plight of the refugees, and the reaction and inaction of various countries to the crisis.  There is no doubt that the author has done her research; a list of books and websites is recommended at the end.  I recently read The Lightless Sky by Gulwali Passarlay, a book which recounts the year-long journey of a 12-year-old Afghani refugee; A Dangerous Crossing touches on many of the issues found in the non-fiction book.  For example, Passarlay concludes that human smuggling has “a highly organized infrastructure” and Khan echoes with the statement that “The point is, all of this is a very big operation, a wellcoordinated operation.” 

The problem is that the book is sometimes bogged down by lengthy passages of exposition that would be more appropriate in an essay:  “Assad was engaged in a wholesale slaughter of his people.  Set aside for the moment the destruction of Syria’s cities:  their colleges, hospitals, and schools, their mosques and ancient souks.  Even if that wasn’t totted up in a column of unthinkable loss, there was the question of Syria’s people.  Syria had been a nation of twenty-two million.  Fully half that population was displaced; seven million internally, while five million had fled Assad’s incalculable violence.  The abject misery of Syria’s prison system needed to be weighed on a separate scale of horrors.”

Though this book can be read as a standalone, I would strongly recommend that it be read in the proper sequence.  The relationships among the characters will be much better understood if the previous three books in the series have been read.  All the investigations of these prior installments are mentioned.  For instance, the Drayton inquiry is alluded to at least four times; that is the case in the first book, The Unquiet Dead.  There are seven references to Algonquin, a setting which features prominently in the second book, The Language of Secrets.  There are at least a dozen references to the case in Iran; this case is the focus of the third book, Among the Ruins.  In A Dangerous Crossing, characters like Hassan and Laine are discussed with virtually no explanation; these references will mean nothing to readers who have not read the other novels. 

And these personal relationships are important.  They certainly get in the way in this investigation.  Nathan doesn’t want Rachel to read some of his emails with Audrey, and Esa’s sister doesn’t want her brother to read her correspondence with Audrey.  Readers who have not followed the series may be left mystified by Nathan and Ruksh’s reluctance.  Actually, the lack of trust among several characters complicates the search for Audrey; this wariness is understandable in refugees but not so much in other investigators. 

The many romantic tensions, most often the result of misunderstandings, are becoming tedious.  How many times must Esa and Sehr misinterpret each other’s actions?  How often does Rachel’s insecurity have to affect her relationship with Nathan?  There are reasons why Rachel lacks confidence when it comes to romance, but after a while, her diffidence becomes annoying.  We are to see her as a dynamic character who has learned from past experiences (“She couldn’t bear to be the reminder of someone’s tragedy again” and “To deny her importance to someone else wasn’t a pattern she intended to repeat”), but she still comes across as immature.  Audrey describes her brother as a “Bumbling Lamb” but that descriptor could also apply to Rachel. 

A Muslim police investigator as a protagonist is a welcome addition to the mystery/crime genre, and the character of Esa continues to provide insight into the tenets of Islam and the mind of a devout but moderate Muslim.  He and Rachel are an odd partnership but their working relationship is based on mutual understanding, respect, and affection.  I will continue to follow the series though I hope the romantic entanglements take a back seat.  My bet is that the next case will see the return of Laine:  Nathan says, “’There’s something wrong with Laine, something different about her.  I have to admit I’m worried, I wish I could say otherwise.’  Esa had noticed it too . . . and he wondered if this was ground they were going to tread again.”

Note:  I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.