Iran’s stormy history is the atmospheric backdrop for Ausma Zehanat Khan’s “Among 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 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.
Impossible is not an option for Court Gentry, aka the Gray Man, the hero of “Gunmetal Gray” (Berkley), Mark Greaney’s sixth novel starring the ex-CIA agent, now assassin for hire. Fans of RPG, Hong Kong action films and high-octane storytelling will love the Gray Man, who battles full-bore through this fast-paced series. Greaney, who co-wrote three books with Tom Clancy before taking over the Jack Ryan franchise after Clancy died, wastes no time getting his hero into trouble. In the first chapter, Gentry is in Hong Kong, on assignment for the CIA, and Chinese intelligent agents itching for a fight want to know what he’s doing on their turf. That scene ends badly for the agents and kicks off nearly 500 pages of gun battles and hand-to-hand combat as Gentry outsmarts the Chinese government, a Russian paramilitary unit, a Vietnamese criminal organization and Thai river pirates, all of whom want a piece of Fan Jiang, a Chinese cyber-intrusion expert who is running for his life. It’s a major intelligence coup for the country that captures him. In a wonderful bit of casting, Gentry’s most challenging opponent is Russian intelligence agent Zoya Zakharova, code name “Banshee.” She’s just as fierce as Gentry, and in some ways her talents in combat outshine his.
“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 and is suspected of killing his family. Through Kate’s story we learn more about Nick, who will do anything to ensure that Kate testifies. Ewan’s characters may be 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 in Hamburg, Rome, Prague and high atop a Swiss mountain. To stay alive Nick and Kate 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.”
Memmott also reviews books for the Chicago Tribune.