Ronnie Khan, a Pakistani American woman, moves to Sedona with Marley Dewhurst, her new friend and life-coach, in this new novel by Amina Akhtar. Sedona and life with Marley are a far cry from Ronnie’s childhood in Queens. Having been orphaned young, Ronnie is raised by an abusive aunt who insists that Ronnie spend her life in servitude. From cooking and cleaning and being submissive to her aunt’s friends, Ronnie learns to lead a double life. Through a friend at work, Ronnie meets Marley and begins to address her timidity and subservience and to assert herself. She develops a backbone, discovers that the home she grew up in belongs to her and not her aunt, sells the house and evicts her aunt, and moves to Sedona with Marley to start a new life.
Sedona was not everything that either Marley or Ronnie imagined. Ronnie’s new life, however, is marred by Ronnie and Marley’s discovery of a decapitated body on one of their hikes. These hikes are also a bane of Ronnie’s life along with cleansing diets, spa treatments, crystals and all the paraphernalia of a new age life. Ronnie is also very uncomfortable being the only woman of color in Sedona’s largely white and female community of healers, tarot card readers, shamans, and life coaches. As Ronnie begins to find her way in Sedona, the body count grows. Marley seizes upon the moment to gain publicity on TV and social media so she can boost her credentials as a healer. Ronnie, who is publicity shy, becomes friends with twins Star and Brit who own a crystal store and lots of real estate in Sedona. She begins working at the crystal store. Ronnie’s other new friends are the local ravens who watch over her and have their own agenda for protecting the environment from encroaching humans. Ronnie feeds them and they leave her tokens of their appreciation.
The novel has many plot twists that keep us engaged. Akhtar also has a wicked sense of humor; she satirizes the orientalism in Sedona, the brutal competition amongst the healers, and makes fun of the pseudo-spirituality that shapes Sedona culture. There are memorable and quirky characters—Ronnie and her aunt, Marley, the twins, an evil squatter who befriends Marley and orchestrates her insane publicity stunts, and the ravens. Secrets are unraveled, murderers exposed, and the novel has an unexpected ending.
Akhtar’s novel is one that offers good entertainment for those of us who enjoy a good thriller. South Asian American writers have not entered the world of genre fiction in large numbers, and Akhtar’s foray into the thriller genre is a welcome one. Whether you are looking for a book to take on vacation or to hunker down with on a grey Seattle day, this thriller with gothic elements should be on your list.