His father had been a history professor at the American University of Cairo but had been shot dead by one of his students before Ash was born. His family had then emigrated to the US. Ash (like the author) went on to attend Purdue University. After college, he had joined the police force, starting at the police academy when he was 22. Four years before we first come across him, he had been shot in the shoulder and he still felt the pain. He loved his work but "I could only see so many bodies before I became as broken as the victims I investigated," so welcomed the chance of going to law school.
Chris Culver grew up in southern Indiana where he went to graduate school at Purdue. He moved to Arkansas when his wife was offered a faculty position at a small university there, and in between teaching ethics and comparative religion at the university, wrote The Abbey, which he first self-published as an ebook but which, to his surprise became a best-seller. He and his wife now live near St Louis, Missouri. He chose to write about a Muslim detective because he said he was tired of reading books that portrayed all Muslims as terrorists: "I know a lot of Muslims, and they're all pretty normal."
The Abbey (2011)
The Abbey introduces us to Ash Rashid, a former homicide detective who can't stand the thought of handling another death investigation. But then the body of his niece Rachel is found in the guest apartment of one of the city's wealthiest citizens. The coroner calls it an overdose, but Ash cannot believe it was suicide - especially when Rachel's boyfriend, the son of the millionaire, is also found dead in the apartment: another apparent suicide.
Against orders, Ash launches his own investigation to find his niece's murderer. But the longer he searches, the greater the danger for all involved. He can soon claim, "I had burned a building to the ground, shot a guy, become indebted to a drug dealing Russian gangster, and uncovered a major drug trafficking ring with ties to a vampire cult." So there's no lack of action in which Ash himself never hesitates to join.
Although it gets off to rather a slow start, it develops into an increasingly exciting and gripping story with enough sinister characters and plenty of dramatic action to hold the interest. Ash himself is remarkably unscrupulous in the Illegal way that he is prepared to act and the toughness with which he is ready to treat suspects: "In real life, you've got to get your hands a little dirty, and occasionally you've got to stick them in so much shit you will wonder if the stink will ever come out. I knew that, and I accepted it. At the same time, there was a big step between planting evidence on a suspect I know is guilty and taking that suspect out myself. I didn't know if I had a right to do that."
The strong story is helped along by some gentle humor, as when, after he had "committed a major felony .... shot the nephew of a very powerful gangster, and then watched evidence that could have saved my ass burn", he adds, "Some mornings I really ought to stay in bed."
The Outsider (2013)
The Outsider describes how Detective Sergeant Ash Rashid comes home one evening to find Indianapolis crime boss Konstantin Bukoholov waiting for him. Bukoholov offers him $5,000 in cash to look into a hit-and-run accident earlier in the day that killed a close friend of Ash and his family, Cassandra Johnson. Ash soon learns that, although Cassandra's body is in the morgue, and her six-year-old daughter, Lisa, is in the custody of Child Services, no one in the police department has heard of Cassandra, let alone filed a homicide report. Meanwhile, Susan Mercer, Ash's boss in the prosecutor's office to where he has been assigned, needs his help in the trial of a Muslim immigrant from Iraq accused of killing a cop.
Ash likes the independence he enjoys in his job for "he preferred to work alone" and "was never very big on following rules". But it all gets very violent and he again feels he has had enough of the bloody situations in which he finds himself as "it didn't even seem worth it any more ... I've really got to get a better job." He is very much a practising Muslim, even if he by no means always manages to resist the temptations of alcohol, forbidden by his faith, for "unfortunately, drinking was one of the few activities that allowed Ash to sleep soundly at night and forget about the things he saw at work". And he is eminently practical. When his son had been born, he knew that the "Islamic tradition was to sacrifice a pair of animals and have a party for friends and family .... Since Ash was reasonably sure his neighbours would object if he slaughtered a pair of sheep on the front lawn, he and Hannah had instead donated money to Haifer International. Heifer used the money to purchase bees for poor families in Africa." He "may not have been the most pious man in the world" but would have liked to have been able to pray at the proper times and is sorry that circumstances did not always make it possible. It seems a little odd that he always seems to refer to God rather than to Allah, but perhaps it is the author wanting to make him easier to identify with.
It is a lively, gripping story with a persistent sense of menace that holds the attention right from the start. It is very convincing too, as when Ash explains that when questioning people, "a random question every now and then prevents a witness from being able to anticipate a line of questioning and think of answers in advance. It may not have been able to keep someone from lying to him, but it usually made the lies easier to spot." And he knows how the police used "potatoes in socks as improvised, nonlethal weapons before the department started issuing Tasers. They were good for crowd control on college campuses and at sporting events because they would hit hard enough to knock someone senseless but, unlike a nightstick, wouldn't crack a skull or cause permanent damage." The author has certainly done his research.
Ash is a very determined detective, ready even to bribe another policeman if that is the only way to get the information that he needs. It makes a good if very violent story, and he is a really interesting character.
There are interviews with the author on the Crime Fiction Lover site and the Kindle Mystery Blog
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All is not what it seems. The Abbey is, in fact, a night club - but it is housed in a converted country church, even if it is hard to believe that it looked like this! But it makes an arresting cover.