Reality-tinged escapism in ‘Among the Ruins,’ ‘Gunmetal Gray’ and ‘Long Time Lost.’
Iran’s stormy history is the atmospheric backdrop for Ausma Zehanat Khan’s A mong the Ruins (Minotaur), the third book in her exceptional series featuring Esa Khattak, a Canadian detective of Pakistani descent. On leave from his job with Canada’s Community Policing unit, Khattak, who is a Muslim, makes a pilgrimage to Iran. While there he’s pressured by the Canadian government into investigating the death of Zahra Sobhani, an Iranian-Canadian filmmaker who was raped, beaten and killed in Evin, a notorious Iranian prison. Renewed relations between Canada and Iran hinge on the outcome of the investigation, but Khattak’s search for those behind Sobhani’s murder is complicated. He’s being watched by agents of the current authoritarian regime, and he has no idea who’s sending him cryptic letters that may contain clues to why Sobhani was killed. Back in Toronto, his partner, Rachel Getty, is looking into why Sobhani had been searching for an obscure film dating back to the 1968 coronation of the Shah. When she heads to Iran to help her partner, the story takes on the air of a James Bond movie, including an explosive finale on the Caspian Sea.
Long Time Lost (Minotaur) begins on the Isle of Man, then jettisons its beleaguered protagonists across the Irish Sea, into Britain and then across a vast swath of the European continent. In Chris Ewan’s fourth stand-alone thriller, witness protection and relocation expert Nick Miller takes an urgent phone call from Kate Sutherland, who just killed someone who was trying to kill her. She’s in hiding, waiting for her chance to testify against Russell Lane, a man she believes killed a friend. What we soon learn is that Miller, once known as Nick Adams, is also running from the Manchester police, suspected of killing his family. Through Kate’s story we learn more about Nick, who will do anything to ensure Kate testifies. Ewan’s characters may be somewhat derivative — Nick, for example, has a bespectacled computer nerd on his payroll — but the links in the chain that pull the on-the-run Nick and Kate across Europe are solidly constructed. Like a shot-on-location “Mission Impossible” film, the book showcases action all over the continent with confrontations taking place in Hamburg, Rome, Prague and high atop a Swiss mountain. Nick and Kate, in order to stay alive, must elude the Lane family’s goons including a walleyed psycho creep who loves hanging his victims upside down before torturing them. Ewan goes a bit overboard, checking more than once all the boxes required for a formulaic thriller. Nevertheless, the twists and turns inside every twist and turn make it easy to fall into “Long Time Lost.”