Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Ausma Zehanat Khan--Among the Ruins



DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm the first to admit that I am always a little behind the times. But we've been talking about buzz--or is that organic buzz--and authors spreading the word about things they read and love. So let me tell you about Ausma Khan. I had met her at conferences, and we had chatted, and I knew she had recently had her first novel published. I meant to look it up--we are all full of good intentions--but I got derailed. Then, a few months ago, I was in my local B&N with a friend and we were browsing the mystery section. There, on the shelf, was THE UNQUIET DEAD, Ausma's first novel. I read the flap, bought it without a second's more hesitation, took it home and pretty much didn't put the book down until I finished it. 


It is stunningly good. 

Of course, THE UNQUIET DEAD came out in 2015, so I guess I can't say it was officially my favorite first novel of the last year, but in personal terms it will be the one that goes down in my memory.

Now, Ausma has had a second book out, THE LANGUAGE OF SECRETS, and her third book, AMONG THE RUINS, is out on Valentine's Day. (You may have seen THE LANGUAGE OF SECRETS on my to-read stack. I'm determined to get to it before February 14th, so I'll be ready for the new book.)

Here's Ausma to tell you a little more about her series.

AUSMA KHAN: Thank you so much, Debs, for inviting me to participate, it’s lovely to be here this week!

I’m a relative newcomer to the mystery genre—my third book is just coming out on Valentine’s Day, and I thought it would be fun to introduce my Canadian detectives, Inspector Esa Khattak and Sergeant Rachel Getty, along with the city that produced them.

When you think of intriguing mystery settings, Toronto may not immediately leap to mind. Although we have a full range of seasons, you might be imagining a city blanketed in snow, where the inhabitants are much too cold to think about doing away with each other. I say this slightly tongue-in-cheek, but I’m hoping to change that impression because Toronto is my hometown. It’s the city where I spent my adolescence, went to school, got married, and where I still return to see family several times a year.


For as long as I’ve wanted to write mysteries, I’ve known that I wanted to base them in Toronto. Yes, my hometown is cold, but not as cold as some of the other places I’ve lived. Childhood on the Canadian prairies? Check. Four years in the capital city, Ottawa, where I never actually saw a flower bloom because of the timing of the academic cycle? Check. Two years on the blisteringly cold edge of the lake in Chicago? Also check.

But what Toronto occasionally lacks in weather, it makes up for with multiculturalism, easy-going attitude, a fantastic variety of ethnic food, a world-class arts scene, and the ability to produce two detectives like Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty, a pair of Canadian sleuths who get along well together despite their many differences. Esa is cultured, sophisticated and devilishly handsome. Rachel comes from a troubled family with a less privileged background, and has never had anything come easy in her life.

To be honest, I wrote Esa Khattak because I didn’t see a lot of people like me in mystery fiction in lead roles. Inspector Esa Khattak, the head of Community Policing, is the kind of man that a city like Toronto produces. He’s rooted in his Canadian identity, passionately interested in international issues, and conscious of a global connectedness. Esa is a Canadian Muslim who is charged with representing the interests of minority communities in their interactions with law enforcement: he’s someone who can see many perspectives at once, and who may be exposed to racial or religious tensions, but who has no difficulty in reconciling them for himself because he’s comfortable in his own skin, and doesn’t feel out of place. I wanted to write a character who could be East and West and many other things at once, and who could navigate those different worlds without feeling defensive or excluded. And to give it a little more flavor, I wrote Esa as this handsome, desirable man because that’s not typically what we expect when we see a character like him depicted in popular culture.


And then, of course, Esa needed someone to interact with, someone young and lively and passionate about her job, who could be sensitive to Esa and their work without compromising her own convictions. Rachel is a charge-ahead, side-with-the-underdog, highly intuitive detective, who sometimes doubts the same qualities that make her good at her job. She is also an ardent hockey player: the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team may be the greatest love of her life.

Throwing these two characters together was a really fun way for me to bring to light Toronto’s multicultural identity, and to explore the concept of what it means to be Canadian throughout this series of books.

The considerate nature of Esa and Rachel’s interactions with each other is how I balance the darkness of the human rights issues I write about in my mysteries. Through Esa and Rachel’s eyes, it becomes a little easier to look at the costs of war, terrorism, prisoners of conscience, or torture.
Rachel and Esa seem like the right people in the right city to take on difficult subjects. They try to unravel these painful issues to arrive at a place of hope.


QUESTION FOR READERS:
What other mysteries have you read where you think the setting is as important to the book as the characters? What places have you been introduced to through a book that you’d like to visit? For me, Peter May’s ‘The Blackhouse’ trilogy has made me long to visit the Outer Hebrides.

Bouchercon 2017 takes place in Toronto this year! Look for me there, I’d love to meet you in person.

DEBS: Yes, sign up for Bouchercon ASAP. On to-do list! And as much as I already love Toronto, I'm going to view it differently having had the perspective of seeing it through Esa and Rachel's eyes. Here's more about Ausma, and about AMONG THE RUINS


Ausma Zehanat Khan is the author of the award-winning debut novel The Unquiet Dead, the first in the Khattak/Getty mystery series. Her subsequent novels include the critically acclaimed The Language of Secrets and Among the Ruins. The Khattak/Getty mystery series has been optioned for television by Lionsgate, and Ausma is also the author of a forthcoming fantasy series for Harper Voyager. The Bloodprint, Book One of the Khorasan Archives will be published in October 2017. Ausma holds a Ph.D. in international human rights law with a specialization in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans. A British-born Canadian and former adjunct law professor, she now lives in Colorado with her husband. 




AMONG THE RUINS
On leave from Canada’s Community Policing department, Esa Khattak is traveling in Iran, reconnecting with his cultural heritage and seeking peace in the country’s beautiful mosques and gardens. But Khattak’s supposed break from work is cut short when he’s approached by a Canadian government agent in Iran, asking him to look into the death of renowned Canadian-Iranian filmmaker Zahra Sobhani. Zahra was murdered at Iran’s notorious Evin prison, where she’d been seeking the release of a well-known political prisoner. Khattak quickly finds himself embroiled in Iran’s tumultuous politics and under surveillance by the regime, but when the trail leads back to Zahra’s family in Canada, Khattak calls on his partner, Detective Rachel Getty, for help.

Rachel uncovers a conspiracy linked to the Shah of Iran and the decades-old murders of a group of Iran’s most famous dissidents. Historic letters, a connection to the Royal Ontario Museum, and a smuggling operation on the Caspian Sea are just some of the threads Rachel and Khattak begin unraveling, while the list of suspects stretches from Tehran to Toronto. But as Khattak gets caught up in the fate of Iran’s political prisoners, Rachel sees through to the heart of the matter: Zahra’s murder may not have been a political crime at all.


DEBS: Ausma will be stopping into chat, so please do stop in and say hello!

60 comments:

  1. In stories where the setting is vitally important, I wonder if it is because of the setting itself or because of the influences of the setting on the characters and on the plot of the story being told?
    I haven’t yet read your Esa Khattak/Rachel Getty books, Ausma, but I’m adding them to my teetering to-be-read pile . . . .

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    1. Hmmm, interesting observation! Possibly both, I think. Perhaps people act the way they do because of where they are from, or that may be just one factor. And thank you so much, I hope you like the books and believe me, my pile is similarly teetering!

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  2. Welcome, Ausma! My sister has lived in Canada for decades, mostly in Quebec, and now lives in Ottawa. There is so much to admire about your country and the way multi-culturalism is woven into everyone's lives (just look at your fabulous prime minister's fabulous cabinet!). Good for you for bringing that to the forefront with your detective and your stories. Adding your titles to my stack. And I'll see you in Toronto!

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    1. Thank you so much, Edith, it's so lovely to be here! And it's always great to hear when people have been to Canada and enjoyed it. I love Ottawa though I haven't been back in years, and I really hope to get back to Quebec one day soon. I used to walk to school every day and pass the magnificent Chateau Laurier in the capital. Looking forward to Toronto.

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  3. Sounds like a fascinating book, and I love the way you talk about it, Ausma. I love Toroto (looking forward to Bouchercon!)... the multiculture-est of multicultural cities.

    In an interview P. D. James said: "My books begin with a place, the feeling I want to set a book there..." And her books do feel that way. Ruth Rendell, too. And of course your fellow Canadian Louise Penny.

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    1. Thank you, Hallie! It is very multicultural..if you take the subway it's very much like being in New York or Chicago. Different faces, different languages and all the food! And yes I do love Louise Penny, I learned so much about Quebec history from her books especially Bury Your Dead.

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  4. Welcome Ausma! I had not heard of your books, but Debs made sure we find them irresistible. For books with powerful settings, Kent Krueger's series in Minnesota spring to mind. Also Arnaldur Indridisan and Ragnar Jonasson have me yearning to visit Iceland...

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    1. Thank you, Lucy! Those are good recommendations, especially because I have also been wanting to visit Iceland and I love to read a book about a particular location before I visit.

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  5. So great to see Ausma here. Her books are on my must-read-before-Bouchercon list. I mentioned on yesterday's post how we as reviewers hear the buzz early and Ausma is a perfect example. So many readers I respect love her books and the critical/award attention followed suit.

    As a general rule, I think Canadian authors do a great job incorporating setting into their books - think Louise Penny, Anthony Bidulka, and Cathy Ace - just to name a few.

    The Shetland Islands and the Outer Hebrides are definitely on my travel list due to Ann Cleeves and Peter May. But right now, my heart belongs to Iceland. Ragnar Jonasson, Yrsa Sigudardoittir, and others just make you feel that location in their novels.

    For American authors, I'd say that Karin Salvalaggio does a exceptional job blending setting and story.

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    1. Thank you, Kristopher! Well, those are some great recommendations and I'm adding them to my list right now. I've just begun to watch a TV series called Shetland and that has also whetted my appetite to visit.

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  6. Though I'm not particularly good with writing setting, I do adore books where the setting is its own character. How fun will it be to visit Toronto for Bouchercon and visit Esa and Rachel's world? That's the best thing about a well written setting - visiting the place and feeling almost as if you're inside the books. Isn't that one of the reasons we read ... and write? :)

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    1. Hi Aimee! I couldn't agree more! I'm hoping to put together a list of great local restaurants before Bouchercon... can you sense my obsession with food? Looking forward to meeting a lot of you there!

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  7. My favorite books are those which take me outside of the world I live in and know--so, those might be out of time--like Anne Perry, Ellis Peter's Brother Cadfael series, all of Charles Todd's books. Or a different place--Debs' books, Julia's series, Ann Cleeves, Sheila Connolly--Tony Hillerman, Margaret Coel, William Kent Krueger--to name just a few off the top of my head. So, Ausma's books are exactly the kind of new series I'm always on the look-out for--my experience of Toronto is limited to a single conference there (including a visit to the ROM); can't wait to get started!

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    1. I'm so glad you've been to the ROM--what a design! It features quite a bit in Among the Ruins. And you've named some of my favorite writers in your list. Every time I read one of Deb's books, I immediately want to visit England. Last time I had my picture taken at Scotland Yard! And I love period mysteries so I think Charles Todd amounts to two magic words.

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  8. Oh Ausma! I remember reading the advance copy of The Unquiet Dead and thinking… Wow, she has hit this out of the ballpark. Congratulations… Eager to read the new one.
    Hey-- Maybe you can be our Bouchercon tour guide in Toronto! What do you think we should see?
    And I love to read about Boston, you know? It's so terrific someone like Dennis Lehane (!) gets it so right.. and always fascinating to see how some people miss it all together… proves that could setting is more than a travelogue!
    .

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    1. Hank, thank you so much! You wrote to me some of the kindest words on The Unquiet Dead, so thank you again so much! I would love to be a tour guide in Toronto:some must sees are Nathan Phillips Square, the CN Tower, the walk along the Waterfront, the music garden, Hazelton Lanes and the Yorkville area, oh the list is endless! I should also mention that you can fly into Lester B Pearson Airport and take a train straight to downtown.

      Boston is such a great city... I have been trying to visit all 50 states and their major cities, and Boston is one of my favorites. It feels like you are walking through history.

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  9. You had me until Toronto Maple Leafs. Just kidding. I grew up in Buffalo, NY so joshing with the Leafs and their fans is kind of required. =)

    These books sound amazing. I must look them up for my 2017 reading challenge. I love Toronto. Again, because I lived in Buffalo getting there was a breeze - straight shot up the Queen Elizabeth. My husband and I stopped on our honeymoon and had a wonderful time walking the city. It is so beautiful, and varied and CLEAN. Of course, this was before you needed a passport to get there. I haven't been back in years.

    Maybe I'll have to remedy that for Bouchercon this year. But there's that passport thing...

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    1. Ha! Mary, my brother lives in Buffalo and his kids are always very confused about who to cheer for. We have the same problem with the Olympics, are we rooting for Canada or the US or both? I recommend getting the passport, Toronto is gorgeous in the fall! And I hope you enjoy the books!

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  10. Welcome Ausma. I am not a writer but a reader, a voracious one. I very much admire Canadian writers, an infinite list, and I am delighted to add you to it.

    Although I live only 3 hours from Toronto, I've only been there once. Still the city fascinates me, and I am addicted to "19-2", a great TV series that I get on Acorn. As soon as I post this, I am off to Amazon to buy your first book, the one Deb says she couldn't put down!

    As for other books where the setting is vital to the story, there is Three Pines of Penny fame, Port Dundas as described by Inger Ash Wolf, Gemma and Duncan's London, Inspector Erlendur's Reykjavik, James Lee Burke's Louisiana, Roberta/Lucy's Key West, and oh so many more.

    On our last trip to France, we went to Martin Walker's Perigord in the Dordogne, Just for the chance to meet Inspector Bruno. Previously I've gone in search of St. Mary Mead (Nether Wallop), Sarum (Salisbury) and the home of Tante Leonie in Illiers-Compray (Proust's aunt.)

    So take care my writer friends. If you set your books where you live, I may come stalking!



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    1. Ann, you are a reader after my own heart! That is exactly how I travel too! I track down places I have read about and usually bring the book with me so I can make comparisons! I love being immersed in a well-written setting in real life. And now that's three recommendations for Iceland so I really have to increase my reading list. Also, my friend Marni Graff writes mysteries that are set in the Lake District so I love writing her and telling her places I recognize from her books!

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  11. P.S. Julie and I are registered for Bouchercon in Toronto too. See you all there.

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  12. Ausma is a beautiful name. I googled the name and it means Dawn in the Latvian language! I was surprised that it was not a Persian name.

    Welcome to JRW! If it is OK to ask, does Esa's Muslim family have any objections to him working with a woman?

    Yes, the setting is as important as the characters to answer your question.

    Diana

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    1. Hi Diana! What a lovely meaning in the Latvian language! And actually, it is a name in Persian though its origin is Arabic, but it must be the spelling that threw you off because it is a crazy spelling. It's more typically Asma. And it means exalted or great. My sister Ayesha and I were named after a pair of well-known historical figures from the Arabian peninsula. And of course, it's okay to ask! No, Esa's family has no problem with him working with a woman, he actually comes from a family of very headstrong, take-charge women and they wouldn't expect anything less! There are much more conservative families, but that is not very common in Toronto.

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  13. Welcome, Ausma. Toronto is also my hometown, and I am very glad to see another author set a mystery series there with a unique protagonist. I really enjoyed your first two books, and am looking forward to reading Among The Ruins. Hope to see you at this year's Bouchercon.

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    1. Grace! How lovely to meet a fellow Torontonian, and now of course, I'd love to read your books! Thank you so much for checking out my books and let's definitely meet in the fall, what a party this is going to be!

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  14. Just learned that the Signs restaurant in Toronto closed last December :-( I was looking forward to visiting that restaurant when I went to my first Bouchercon in Toronto.

    I will look for your books in the bookstore and at my library.

    Re: Settings in Books

    Rhys Bowen's Wales (Constable Evans), Penny Warner's Connor Westphal (California Gold Country), Ellen Byron's Cajun Mysteries set in Louisiana, Deborah Crombie's Gemma James and Kincaid books set in London, Alexander McCall Smith's Philosophy Club set in Edinburgh and Ladies' No. 1 Detective agency set in Botswana, Louise Penny's Gamache set in Three Pines, Quebec, Charles Finch's Lenox mysteries set in 1876 London, Charles Todd's Rutledge and Crawford mysteries (two series) set in England; Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs set in 1930s England, Caroline Graham's Midsomer Murders set in England, Ellie Alexander's Bakeshop mysteries set in Ashland, Oregon, Jenn McKinlay's Hat Shop mysteries set in London, Susan Elia MacNeal's Maggie Hope set in England and Europe (sometimes the USA), among many others.

    thank you for introducing us to your books.

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    1. What a great list! Many of my favorites are included there. Recently, I started watching the Madame Ramotswe detective series on TV, and that is a setting to inspire the most jaded traveler.I'd better get working on my list of restaurants!

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  15. Ausma, I will be looking for your books ASAP. Your characters are people I want to know! Thanks Debs, for introducing us all to Ausma.

    I also love the bleak, powerful setting in Peter May's books, and Ann Cleeves' Shetland mysteries as well.

    I am a big fan of books set in Canada, where I attended school at one time (Halifax) and I look forward to my first visit to Toronto this fall for Bouchercon.

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    1. Hi Brenda! Thank you so much, I hope you really enjoy the books and I love the Maritimes. Did you attend Dalhousie?

      Great book recommendations and please look me up in Toronto!

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  16. Ausma, the Shetland tv series is based on Ann Cleeves' wonderful novels. Just yesterday it was announced that she would received the Diamond Dagger Award this year. She is simply amazing!

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    1. Ah fantastic! More wonderful books to read!

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  17. My folks live in central New York, and Toronto has always been "the big city" for them (much closer than NYC) so I'm not surprised to hear it makes a good setting for a mystery series. Maybe just surprised it hasn't been used much before!

    Ausma, I'm excited one of your protagonists is Muslim. My youngest daughter converted to Islam, and ever since I've been very aware of the lack of - for a better term - everyday characters who happen to be Muslim. For some readers, the first time they really "meet" someone different is in the pages of a book. It's important for fiction to reflect the enormous diversity of our countries.

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    1. What a beautiful comment, Julia! I'm wishing your daughter every success in what can sometimes be a difficult transition and journey. The Language of Secrets actually features a character named Paula who has converted to Islam. But your comment is also interesting because recently there has been a hashtag my friend created on Twitter, #MuslimShelfSpace, and writers and readers on that platform came up with a great list of books by diverse authors. Please encourage her to take a look! And I'm always here as a resource if you need one.

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  18. Ausma, your series sounds wonderful! I'm going to go back and pick up The Unquiet Dead and start there, I think.

    I live in central Ohio and have vacationed in Toronto numerous times. I was laughing when you talked about it being cold, because that isn't a dominant factor in my impressions at all! I just think of it as wonderfully multicultural,clean, and a great place to catch world-class theater. It's been too long since we've been there.....you may have just planted the seed for a getaway trip!

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  19. Ausma, we share the food obsession. Maybe one of the reasons I loved your book so much:-)

    But I wanted to ask about your titles. They are wonderful. How do you come up with them?

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  20. Thank you, Susan! I really hope you enjoy it. And you're right, Toronto is nowhere near as cold as people expect, and now with global warming, the winters I remember have given way to something much more pleasant, minus the occasional ice storm. I hope you come to visit again soon--I head up for my next trip in March. And so glad you mentioned Ohio, because all the kids of the next generation of my family were born in Cleveland. I know Cleveland and Youngstown really well--great memories!

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  21. I'm so glad to hear I'm not the only person who constantly thinks of food, Debs! Ah, the titles. Well, thank you. I always try to use a line from each book, but my editor has final say on all titles. I wanted to call The Unquiet Dead "An Unsafe Area" instead, but my lovely editor nixed that one. So next I offered "The Unquiet Dead" because it was the title of my dissertation on war crimes in the Balkans. She has the best eye and understanding of titles. The other two, The Language of Secrets and Among the Ruins, were both phrases from the books -- I'm always looking for something that is essential to the mystery and sounds a little poetic, but it takes me a very long time and Elizabeth, my editor, usually spots a good title long before I do! And speaking of gorgeous titles, I *love* Garden of Lamentations!!!
    Thanks for hosting me here, Debs--it's such a great experience!

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  22. Welcome, Ausma! I thought "The Unquiet Dead" was terrific, and one of the best parts was how much I learned about the Balkans. I felt like the book educated me, but never in a way that felt peachy or boring. That's not an easy feat! I'll see you in Toronto, but I'm tickled that we're going to be on a panel together in Tucson at the book festival! Looking forward to it! Congrats on the new book!

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  23. I enjoyed the introduction to your books and look forward to reading them. Thanks for sharing some insights with us! (I'm also looking forward to reading Roberta's Icelandic authors as well) ~

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  24. Thank you, Ingrid for all those kind words--I'm relieved to know you felt that way, because it's such a tricky line to walk. And I'm glad that I have two dates to catch up with you on--March and October!
    And thanks also for the good wishes, I can't wait to chat with you on that panel about books!

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  25. Thanks so much, Celia. It was such a pleasure to be here, and to hear all these comments and see such great reading recs. My bookshelves are groaning under the weight of my existing TBR pile, but I still love adding to it. Icelandic writers must be inspired by the natural beauty of their surroundings, and their unique climate--looking forward to diving into that!

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  26. Hello, Ausma! I am so excited to have discovered you today. I just bought The Unquiet Dead for my kindle and I can't wait to read it! You had me at a Toronto setting (I have a summer place in Nova Scotia - Yay, Canada!), hockey as a passion (I'm a Bruins girl but Mark Messier once bought me a beer - great guy! - and I kissed his cheek), and from the way you describe Esa, I think you are giving me a new fictional boyfriend - a girl can never have too many. I've been looking for a new series so I'm actually delighted that I'll be able to dive into three before I pester you to hurry up with the next one.

    As for places that I want to see because of fiction: Shetland Islands! Not only am I an Ann Cleeves fan and love the series but I'm also a knitter and somewhat obsessed with the technique of Fair Isle knitting that originates from there.

    Delighted ot have "met" you today!

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  27. Jenn, you will love Esa. We can fight over our fictional boyfriend:-)

    And I, too, am a big Ann Cleeves fan, and have read few things where the setting is such an integral part of the story.

    Has everyone else seen the TV adaptations? The landscape is SO beautiful! But I keep thinking about what it must be like in winter... Lots of hygge required.

    Ausma, tell us more about the television option on your books.

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  28. Hi Jenn! Thank you so much. Esa is also my fictional boyfriend though I do have a very handsome husband, lol! And actually, for some reason I still haven't figured out, since hubby and I are both from Toronto, my husband is a RABID Bruins fan. MARK MESSIER BOUGHT YOU A BEER? That was the lead! Wayne Gretzky once caused me to have a car accident--but only because I was reading his charming autobiography while I was driving. It was clearly unputdownable.

    I'm dying to see the Shetland Islands too, the Isle of Skye, and especially the Outer Hebrides, because honestly from Peter May's books, they sound like such a beautiful, fierce, rugged, unexpected world. Oh by the way, rent the movie 'The Decoy Bride.' It stars the raffish David Tennant and is set in the Hebrides, but filmed on Skye I think. Gorgeous locales and if you can decipher the local accent, it's also so silly and funny.

    Would love to see some of that knitting, as well!

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  29. Debs, I've seen the first episode of Shetland, and the scenery was stark, austerely beautiful and everything seemed quite cold. Even *watching* these shows, I feel like I need cocoa and a thick blanket, and preferably a cat on my lap. Plenty of hygge required!

    Re: the TV show, it's so exciting! I really believe in serendipity because this amazing producer read an interview I'd done in the Canadian magazine Maclean's, and that inspired her to read the books, and next thing I know there's an offer! I do hope the show gets made down the road because a character like Esa might help us to understand each other a little better. Plus, I love watching mysteries on tv. I'm trying to imagine who might get cast as Esa...all my cousins have volunteered, lol!

    Past and current addictions: The Murdoch Mysteries, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Foyle's War, and the three magnificent limited series River, Broadchurch and The Missing.

    I was physically shocked by reveals in The Missing--it was just brilliant!

    Clearly, I watch too much tv and really should try to do more writing. And reading.

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  30. (I've had to split my comments into two posts. First one was too long to go through.)

    Ausma, Inspector Esa Khattak and Sergeant Rachel Getty and your series sound like books I need to get to right away. My reading of Muslim characters is too lacking, so Esa will be a welcome addition to my cultural awareness. Julia made such an excellent point about how often readers' first introduction to a different culture or belief is through their reading. I originally wasn't going to attend the Toronto Bouchercon, but it looks like I have yet another reason to sign up (I already have a hotel room with someone).

    And, Ausma, I share your love of Peter May's Blackhouse and the others in the Lewis Trilogy. Have you seen Peter's coffee table book of the Hebrides with photographer David Wilson? He created it, with its amazing photographs, as a companion to the Lewis Trilogy, and I found it incredibly helpful and delightful. I am hopelessly in love with the Outer Hebrides now, and it's on my must-visit list. Here's the link to his beautiful book of photography: https://www.amazon.com/Hebrides-Peter-May/dp/162365792X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1485375686&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Hebrides+by+Peter+May

    It seems that Scotland is a part of my heart now through reading, and one of my series catch-up readings this year is Anne Cleeves Shetland series. I have them stacked up and ready to go. Hmm, maybe you and I need to plan a trip, Ausma (and Kristopher, I'm sure you'd be up for this, too). A couple of years ago, I was chosen as a Peter May Super Fan in a contest I entered, and I received a lot of books, including the photographic Hebrides, but since I wasn't a resident of Great Britain, I wasn't eligible for the trip to the Hebrides that was offered. So, the Hebrides and the Shetlands will have to be on my own dime.

    As far as other mystery/crime books or series that have created settings where I feel them intensely and they become a character in themselves. Debs' Gemma and Duncan series, of which I'm reading Garden of Lamentations now, had brought London alive to me like no other reading. I've said since I started reading this series that Debs' books are the best guide to London ever a tourist could have, and the maps she includes inside the book covers are ever so amazing. I'm thinking London should give Debs some sort of award for making that city so inviting, with its different cultures and iconic places mixed so seamlessly into her stories. Then, there is Julia's Clare and Russ series set in the Adirondacks of New York state. The setting in Julia's books is so much of who the characters are, how they are shaped. While London has its crowded spaces with something different around every corner that appeals to me, the Adirondacks have that sense of isolation, the survival of the fittest (although that applies to London, too) that grabs me. One bad decision in the Adirondacks can mean the difference between life and death, and Julia folds that into the stories so beautifully. When I attended the 2013 Bouchercon in Albany, my friend accompanying me and I went on to Niagara Falls afterwards. But, because of reading Julia's books, I had to take a detour to the Adirondacks first. There are some lonely roads there, just like I expected.

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  31. (Part two of my comments)

    If it seems like I'm focusing on the Reds and their settings here, it's because they have nailed settings so well, ones in which I become ensconced. Lucy's Key West series was a favorite because she so aptly described one of my favorite places to visit, and through the food and different Key West events, so particular to that place, she brought readers a delicious, vicarious trip. Haley Snow was quite a guide for this paradise of a place. Looking at the historical mysteries, Rhys' Molly Murphy series has taught me so much about New York City in the early 1900s. The setting is integral to the stories of Molly fighting against the expectations of women at that time and in that place. The immigrant story is also a large part of Rhys' series, and the setting is the best melting pot that blends this into daily life. Susan Elia MacNeal's Maggie Hope series set in London during WWII is a favorite of mine, too, and the first set of books in which the streets of wartime London became real to me, seeing and feeling them through Maggie's eyes.

    Then, Elly Griffith's Ruth Galloway series has made Norfolk and its salt marshes, along with some other nearby places, work its way under my skin, with the setting being essential to the stories and their resolutions. These unforgettable stories deal with lots of historical matters, too, which flow into the modern setting, making it whole. Louise Penny's Three Pines, of course, has captured my heart and reading soul, and how important that setting is to the stories that Louise weaves for our reading pleasure. And let me give a nod to Linda Fairstein for acquainting me with so much of New York City, present landmarks and their relation to the past, which is always an important part of her Alexandra Cooper series. Terry Shames has brought a little Texas into my life with her Samuel Craddock series, and I've even learned a thing or two about cows.

    OK, I'm stopping. I really could go on and on. Ausma, I am excited about reading your books and look forward to meeting you in Toronto. I'll be the one with the hungry look and in need of your restaurant suggestions.

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  32. From Quebec, I'm very happy to discover a new to me canadian writer . Your series seems fascinating. Looking forward to read it and to meet you at Bouchercon.
    Setting is so important to me (like Three Pines). Because of all the books I read taking place in Scotland,England and Ireland, I had to visit them first when I went to Europe.
    When I like the setting of a book, I want to confront it with reality. Of course it have to be a reel place...
    Danielle-momo

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  33. Looking forward to picking up your series, Ausma!

    I'm curious to know if you saw any of the recent CBC series "Shoot the Messenger", and what you thought about that? It's a suspense drama set in Toronto, and does involve the Muslim (specifically, Somali) community in large part, but not as detectives.

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  34. Your books sound intriguing, Ausma; I must get my hands on them.

    Here in Toronto, we're all looking forward to seeing lots of you showing up at Boucheron in October. So much planned for all our visitors.

    (Mary, you never know when you'll need a passport, so why not indulge?)

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  35. Writing your name and book titles down...Like so many I am captivated by Great Britain. I want to track down Jimmy Perez in the Shetlands; Ross Poldark in Cornwall. Just too many to name. After reading Ann Charles I was dying to visit Deadwood and managed that a couple of years ago. Love that town! Everyone wants to visit Three Pines. I've read a couple of series centered around Charleston, S.C. I'm ready to spend time there too.

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  36. Susan D, we've been meaning to get passports for the entire family for years and we just never seem to get around to it. And now the kids qualify for adult passports, so more cash. =(

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  37. Ausma,

    I found one copy of The Unquiet Dead at my local indie bookstore and grabbed it! I skimmed it and I noticed there are discussion questions. That is one of my favorite things when I read a book.

    When I finish my current book, I plan to read your novel.

    Diana

    p.s. Mary Sutton, it is worth it to get a passport! I just renewed my passport so I can visit Bouchercon in October!

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  38. Hi Kathy! I'm so sorry to take so long to respond to this when your comments are so informative and amazing. What a great list of recommendations, and how lovely to be able to meet people as obsessed with the Hebrides and Shetland as I am! I couldn't agree with you more about Peter May. What a fantastic writer he is. I was physically stunned after I finished The Blackhouse. I felt like I'd lived a thousand lifetimes and at the same time that I didn't know how to live (or write) at all! What a powerful story in the hands of a brilliant storyteller...yes, I could talk about Peter May forever. When I finally get to the Hebrides, I'm taking his photo book and The Black house with me.

    And I agree with you about Deborah and her wonderful introduction to London/England...I pour(Pore?) over those maps for hours and I often try to see places she's mentioned in her books. Not stalkery at all, lol but because Debs mentioned that she stays in Portobello Market, I specifically went there to see it!
    And I'm going to check out the Ruth Galloway books on your recommendation--I met Elly 2 years ago and she was absolutely lovely! Do look for me in Toronto--I'll be the starstruck one with a pile of books in my hand!

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  39. Hi Danielle: Lovely to hear from you. I know Montreal/Toronto has a real rivalry going but I love Quebec, especially as introduced through Louise Penny's books, and I hope you'll enjoy Toronto through Rachel and Esa's eyes. Three Pines is undoubtedly magical...all I want to do is sit at Gabri's bistro and eat croissants!

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  40. Hi Jennifer (Gray)!
    Thank you and no I haven't seen Shoot the Messenger but I'm definitely going to look it up. I've seen a bit of Flashpoint and I keep catching flashes of the CN Tower which is kind of thrilling, in a boring, oh-so-Canadian way, lol! Will check it out. Hope you enjoy the books!

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  41. Susan D, I cannot wait for Bouchercon! I'm still working on my restaurant list though now I'm realizing that a lot of the GREAT places I recommend are in the suburbs and though our transport system is pretty good, it will be hard to leave the conference to get out there. But I have thought of one in Little India called Lahore Tikka House. TO DIE FOR. Can't wait to meet you in person!

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  42. Thanks Pat, I like your setting recommendations too. I visited Santa Fe, New Mexico purely because of Martha Grimes' mystery that was set there...which one was it? Rainbow's End? Land of Enchantment indeed!

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  43. Diana - so glad you found the book, hope you like it! And I just had an emergency passport renewal done at an exorbitant fee but now I'm feeling all relaxed. At least...I was until the ban, lol. We shall see if this mystery writer is able to cross the border again!

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  44. Thanks all of you so much for a wonderful discussion, I now have a new list of great books to read and wonderful places to visit. xoxo

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