palestinian history teacher Omar Yussef travels from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip, where he becomes immersed in local violence and politics, in this over-the-top sequel to Rees's The Collaborator of Bethlehem (2007). Omar Yussef is a modest figure, quiet and middle-aged. When a U.N. official asks him to speak to a kidnapped schoolteacher's wife, he soon finds himself in the midst of international intrigue, dealing missiles over dinner, shouting down police officers and militants armed with machine guns and rescuing someone from a smuggling tunnel. These incidents seem a bit extreme for an aging academic, though his charm and calm demeanor are almost enough to convince the reader. The zany plot is interesting despite its implausibility, and the richly detailed descriptions, complete with deliberately brutal details of torture and death, emphasize Omar Yussef's peril and the violent tumult of the Middle East. (Feb.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
A Grave in Gaza (Omar Yussef Series #2)by Matt Beynon Rees
“In A Grave in Gaza, Omar Yussef and his boss,Magnus Wallender, travel to the Gaza Strip for a routine inspection of the UN schools in the Gaza refugee camps.Upon their arrival they meet James Cree, the UN security officer for Gaza, who informs them that a teacher at one of their schools has been accused of spying and imprisoned. As they try to free the
“In A Grave in Gaza, Omar Yussef and his boss,Magnus Wallender, travel to the Gaza Strip for a routine inspection of the UN schools in the Gaza refugee camps.Upon their arrival they meet James Cree, the UN security officer for Gaza, who informs them that a teacher at one of their schools has been accused of spying and imprisoned. As they try to free the teacher and keep a lid on an explosive political situation, they are pulled into a confrontation with Gaza’s warring government factions and the criminal gangs with which they are connected.Omar Yussef confronts the dark elements of Gaza—dirty politics, bribery, assassination, and kidnapping—in his struggle to free the innocent and honor the dead.
In Rees's exceptionally fine follow-up to his highly praised debut, The Collaborator of Bethlehem, the Palestinian government in Gaza is a fiction: warring gangs collaborate only to loot. Omar Yussef, the principal of a girls' school in Bethlehem, arrives on an inspection tour of schools and is soon drawn into efforts to secure the release of a university lecturer arrested on a trumped-up charge of spying. One of his colleagues is kidnapped, a UN van is blown up, and a UN observer killed. At 56, Yussef is neither supersleuth nor superhero, just an honorable man striving to find justice for the disenfranchised in a thoroughly corrupt society, where violence is the preferred, indeed, the only tool of governing. A virtue of this outstanding novel is its prose: evocative and sensual in describing setting and character, forceful in moving along the action. A compelling mystery story and a sympathetic portrait of a wounded society, this novel is truly excellent popular fiction. Strongly recommended for mystery and general collections. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ10/1/07.]
Adult/High School -Omar Yussef, principal of a United Nations girlsa' school in a refugee camp near Bethlehem, accompanies two UN officials on a routine school inspection in the Gaza Strip. Routine is quickly set aside, though, after a teacher at one of the institutions is arrested for accusing officials at the local university of corruption. Omar Yussef and his colleagues try to intervene on the teacher's behalf, only to be drawn deeper and deeper into both the open and the covert struggles for political power in Gaza City. When one inspector is kidnapped and the other killed, Omar Yussef is left alone to disentangle the schemes of various political and criminal factions in a last-ditch effort to save his colleague's life as well as his own. Gaza is less a mystery than a suspense novel. What mystery there is lies in determining the links between the various factions. Nonetheless, it is a fascinating view into a much-discussed but little-understood part of the world. Omar Yussef is a champion of the common people, those who try to live quiet and peaceful lives amid social and political chaos. Teens with an interest in the Middle East will find this a fascinating and sobering read.-Sandy Schmitz, Berkeley Public Library, CACopyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Read an Excerpt
As Omar Yussef came along the passage, the flies left the flooded toilets to examine him. The filth in the latrines soon lured most of them back, but a small, droning escort orbited him as he sweated toward Gaza.
The passage was wide and empty, haunted by the thousands who shoved through there twice a day. Its whitewashed walls were soiled gray to the height of a man’s shoulder, marked by the touch of laborers jostling at dawn to their construction jobs in Israel. The mid- morning sun slopped under the raised tin roof, sickly and urinous. The air was pale and stinking and every surface was repugnant.
Omar Yussef struggled along the uneven concrete, scuffing his mauve loafers and bracing his overnight case against his knee with each step. He touched the back of his hand to his nose, fighting the toilet stench with a hint of his French cologne.
Magnus Wallender came alongside him. At forty, the Swede was sixteen years younger than Omar Yussef and three inches taller, not quite five feet ten. His wavy hair was a blondish gray and his light beard was trimmed very short. He wore khaki slacks, a well- pressed blue shirt and tasteful glasses, horn- rimmed and rectangular. “Oh dear,” he said, raising a pale eyebrow at the putrid puddle in front of the toilets.
“The scent of Gaza,” Omar Yussef said.
Wallender smiled and turned to Omar Yussef. “Would you like me to help you with your bag?”
The Swede was trying to be kind, but Omar Yussef hated to think it was obvious that the weight of the bag was a discomfort to him in the heat. Had it been anyone else, he would have snapped, but Wallender was his boss. Kiss the hand that can’t be bitten, he thought. “Thank you, Magnus. I can manage,” he said.
A Palestinian officer sat behind a battered desk in the shade of the grubby passage wall, beyond a squeaking turnstile and a tall roll of barbed wire. When he saw Omar Yussef approaching with a foreigner, he straightened, preparing to process important guests. He reached for the green plastic wallet that held Omar Yussef’s ID card and for Wallender’s dark red passport. The officer examined the photo page of the passport. “Mister Magnus?” he said.
Wallender nodded and smiled.
“Welcome,” the officer murmured, in English. “For what do you come to Gaza?”
“I’m with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, in the Jerusalem office,” Wallender said. “We’re making an inspection of the UN schools in the Gaza refugee camps.” He gestured toward Omar Yussef. “My colleague is the principal at one of our schools in Bethlehem.”
The officer nodded, though Omar Yussef was sure the man’s English wasn’t equal to Wallender’s explanation. Omar Yussef noticed that he transcribed the Swede’s name incorrectly in the large, dog- eared tablet on the table.
“How long since you were in Gaza, ustaz?” the officer asked Omar Yussef.
“Twenty years, my son. The permit isn’t easy to get.”
“You’ll notice some changes in Gaza.”
“Gaza will notice some changes in me.” Omar Yussef gave a short laugh that sounded as though he were preparing to expectorate. “When I was last in Gaza, I had nice curly hair and I could carry an overnight case without breaking into a sweat.”
The officer grinned. He glanced from the ID card to Omar Yussef and his smile wavered, betraying polite confusion. Is he surprised that I’m not as old as I look? Omar Yussef thought. Just below average height, Omar Yussef appeared even shorter because his shoulders stooped like those of an old man. His hair was white, liver spots stained his balding scalp, and his tidy mustache was gray.
“At least, you still have your mind, uncle.” The officer handed back the ID card. “Unlike Gaza.”
Wallender stepped into the light beyond the passageway and gazed at the sun, stretching. “We’re being met here by the UN security officer for Gaza,” he said. “A fellow named James Cree. I’m told he’s Scottish.”
Omar Yussef came up beside him. “A security officer?”
“Apparently Gaza is a bit dangerous, you see.” Wallender laughed.
Taxi drivers lazed in the shade cast by a one- room police post. A few of them approached, calling vaguely predatory welcomes and pointing to their shaky, yellow vehicles. From the shadow beyond the police station stepped a bald, thin man, peering at his mobile phone. He was nearly six and a half feet tall, and his face and scalp were red from the sun.
“I’d say that’s our Mister Cree, don’t you think?” Wallender said. “He looks even more foreign than I do. Which is a rare feat.”
James Cree put his mobile phone in the breast pocket of his short- sleeved shirt. His sunburned face was soft and seemed wavily rounded, like a poached egg on a plate. His eyes were a delicate, faded blue, and he wore a ginger mustache no wider than a pinkie finger from top to bottom. His limbs were long and narrow and suggested the sinewy strength of an endurance athlete.
Wallender shook Cree’s hand. “This is our colleague Omar Yussef, principal of the Girls’ School in Dehaisha refugee camp,” he said. “I’m lucky enough to have obtained permission from the Israelis for him to pass through the checkpoint to work with me on this inspection.”
The Scot bent to shake Omar Yussef’s hand. Omar Yussef felt small, slow and paunchy before the tall, lean man. “Mister Wallender takes you to all the best places,” Cree said dourly, barely moving his lips.
Wallender reached up to slap Cree’s shoulder and went laughing to the white Chevrolet Suburban with black UN markings that rolled out of the parking lot for them.
They settled into the vehicle’s air- conditioned cool. From the front seat, Cree looked at Wallender over his shoulder as the driver pulled into the road. “We’ve got an emerging situation here, Magnus. The office called me as I was waiting for you, and they’ve been messaging me more details on my cellphone. One of our teachers was arrested early this morning.”
“Who?” Wallender said.
“A fellow named Eyad Masharawi. He teaches part- time at our school in Shati refugee camp. The rest of the time he’s a university lecturer.”
“At the Islamic University?” Omar Yussef said.
“No, the other one, whatever the hell it’s called.”
“Aye. Well, the poor bugger’s been arrested. So I’ll drop you at your hotel, if you don’t mind, and I’ll get along sharpish to Masharawi’s house to see what can be done.”
Magnus Wallender looked at Omar Yussef. “We don’t want to delay you, James. Why don’t we come with you? You can take us to the hotel later.”
“I’d just as soon drop you first.”
“No, really, we’d prefer to go with you.”
Cree wasn’t looking at them now. “What about your inspection?” he said, softly.
“I’d say this would be part of our inspection, if one of our teachers is in custody,” Wallender said. “Don’t you agree, Abu Ramiz?”
Omar Yussef noticed Cree’s blue eyes flicker across him when Wallender called him Abu Ramiz, “the father of Ramiz,” a respectful and yet familiar form of address. The Scot didn’t give Omar Yussef a chance to respond. “All right, if it’s like that, then.” He turned to the driver. “Nasser, we’ll go to Masharawi’s place first.”
As the Suburban weaved around the potholes and picked up speed, Omar Yussef wondered where this poor Masharawi might be held and what might have led to his arrest. As a teacher of history to refugee children, he felt an affinity with others who chose such work for little money and less respect.
Outside, the heat flamed off the road and the dunes burned white. Even Bethlehem is more welcoming than this, he thought. His hometown in the bare hills south of Jerusalem had its deadly problems, but it maintained its historic core and the dignity of its old stones. His friend Khamis Zeydan, Bethlehem’s police chief, traveled to Gaza regularly, and he maintained the place was so broken that it ought to be pulled out into the Mediterranean and sunk, along with the gunmen and corrupt ministers who ran it. Yet this small strip of land— rather than Bethlehem— seemed to represent the desperate reality of the Palestinians: Gaza bellowed and struggled like an injured donkey, while its rulers played the role of the angry farmer, furiously beating the stricken beast, though they knew it couldn’t get up.
Nasser hit the brakes as he raced up behind a slow- moving military convoy, and swore. Omar Yussef glanced at the UN men. They showed no sign of comprehending the crude Arabic curse. He leaned forward and spoke to the driver.
“Shame on you,” he said. “Watch your mouth.”
The driver kicked down a gear and sent the Suburban roaring into the opposite lane to pass the military vehicles.
There were five trucks. The three at the back were small and camouflaged, each filled with so many soldiers that they had to stand. They held onto the shoulders of the men next to them and swayed with the rolling of the trucks across the torn surface of the road. They wore green and khaki camouflage, red berets, and red armbands that bore the words Military Intelligence in white.
The second truck from the front was a flatbed of medium length. At its center, a coffin was draped in the green, white, red and black of the Palestinian flag. A row of soldiers stood on each side of the casket, their legs braced against the movement of the truck, facing forward and trying to stand at attention. Omar Yussef thought they strove for a tough look, but their callow faces were bony and nervous.
The UN driver slowed as he passed the coffin. “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet,” he muttered, in benediction for the dead man. Omar Yussef leaned forward in his seat to get a better view of the coffin. Under the flag, there would be a simple box of unfinished planks with no lid. The dead man would be wrapped in a shroud, his legs tied at the ankles. When they buried him, they would save the coffin to use again.
“You’re on the wrong side of the bloody road, Nasser.” Cree spoke to the driver through his teeth.
Nasser stamped on the accelerator and shot past the coffin, pulling back into the right lane.
Omar Yussef wondered who was in that coffin. This was his first sight of death in Gaza, neatly packaged in a box. He was not a mile from the checkpoint and already death was riding the same road.
Meet the Author
Matt Beynon Rees is the former Jerusalem bureau chief for Time. His Omar Yussef mysteries include The Collaborator of Bethlehem (winner of the Crime Writers' Association New Blood Dagger Award) and A Grave in Gaza. He is also the author of the nonfiction work Cain's Field: Faith, Fratricide, and Fear in the Middle East. Born in Wales, he lives in Jerusalem and maintains a website at www.mattbeynonrees.com.
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My favorite genre lately is international based detective stories. Those that are well written provide not only a good detective yarn but color and backround on different locations. The Omar Yussef series is one of many taking place in the Middle East. With a particular emphasis on the Palestian situation this fits the bill. It is an interesting detective story fit in the story of modern Palestine.
Gaza, UN and a pesky historian! Nothing is as it seems in this wonderful suspense novel. Word of warning, if you haven't read his first book, do so before reading this.
The United Nations Relief Works Agency headquartered in Jerusalem sends Swedish worker Magnus Wallender to escort fiftyish Palestinian girls¿ school principal Omar Yussef from the Dehaisa Refugee Camp to the Gaza Strip on an inspection visit. There they meet Scottish security officer James Cree known locally as Abu Ramiz, who explains that part-time Shati Refuge Camp teacher and full time Al-Azhar University Professor Eyad Masharawi has been arrested. Eyad¿s wife insists he was snatched by fourteen Palestinian Security Agents who invaded their home because he loudly objected to the university selling degrees to the Preventative Security officers and not due to his volunteer teaching at the UN refugee camp school.------------ Unassuming, Omar wants to leave Gaza as all he sees is a hell hole he wants to go home to Bethlehem as soon as possible. However, he will do his inspection duty and all he can to get Eyad freed. He never expected to have machine guns pointed at his head nor discus missile diplomacy over dinner. That and more makes Omar feels his age much more than struggling to carry his bag.--------------- Although the probability of a fifty-six years old school principal successfully getting involved in perilous incidents like a rescue from deadly armed men seems so unlikely (the odds would be an imaginary number), readers will drop reality to enjoy a deep look at Gaza. As Omar¿s friend Bethlehem Police Chief Zeydan who has come to Gaza many times says: ¿the place was so broken that it ought to be pulled out into the Mediterranean and sunk¿. Readers will be appalled by Matt Beynon Reyes¿ vivid descriptions of poverty, random killings, and torture supported by official corruption in which death is a welcome outcome while also seeking Omar¿s previous work A COLLABORATOR IN BETHLEHEM (not reviewed).-------------- Harriet Klausner
Difficult reading in parts but enjoyed it enough to purchase author's first novel