Praise for The Collaborator of Bethlehem
Winner of the CWA John Creasey Dagger
"All it takes is one good man—a detective, of course—to humanize events that confound understanding . . . An astonishing first novel . . . Setting a mystery in the epicenter of a war zone challenges the genre conventions, but it doesn’t change the rules. In fact, it clarifies the role of the detective as the voice of reason, crying to be heard above the cacophony of gun-barrel politics."
—The New York Times Book Review
"Rees tells this grim story with skill, specificity and richly detailed descriptions of people and places.”
—The Washington Post
“Matt Rees has taken a complex world of culture clash and suspicion and placed upon it humanity.”
“A beautifully written story. I have walked the streets of Bethlehem with Omar Yussef, smelled the dust and the fear, tasted his food, shared his anger and his hope. His decency is a light in the gloom. I shall not forget him.”
“The Collaborator of Bethlehem is the best—and the rarest—sort of mystery: exciting and compelling, but it is also a deeply moving story that will, for many readers, shed much needed light on the conditions in the Palestinian territories. Matt Rees’s ability to blend the political and the emotional is reminiscent of Graham Greene.”
—David Liss, author of The Day of Atonement
“Omar Yussef has everything I admire in a detective: humility, humanity, a great faith in the power of knowledge and a few bad habits too!”
—Barbara Nadel, author of The Ottoman Cage
Setting a mystery in the epicenter of a war zone challenges the genre conventions, but it doesn’t change the rules. In fact, it clarifies the role of the detective as the voice of reason, crying to be heard above the cacophony of gun-barrel politics. Watching friends die and neighbors turn on one another, Omar Yussef decides that “it’s time for me to scream.” In a world where civilization has broken down into “ignorant, simple-minded, violent politics,” this decent man commits the ultimate act of heroism — keeping an open mind.
The New York Times
This powerful first novel from British journalist Rees humanizes the struggle of the West Bank, where Omar Yussef, a modest 56-year-old schoolteacher in the Dehaisha Palestinian refugee camp, becomes an unlikely detective amid the uncertainties and violence of modern Bethlehem. Israeli gunfire peppers the area, the Muslims mistrust the minority Christian population, and the Martyrs Brigade instills terror in virtually every group. Yussef once taught in a Christian school and developed strong bonds with several of his students, among them George Saba, now a restorer of antiques. When Israeli snipers kill a member of the Palestinian resistance, the authorities accuse Saba of collaborating and throw him in jail for the crime. Yussef finds evidence that Hussein Tamari, the leader of the Martyrs Brigade, orchestrated the situation, but even the police chief, an old friend, seems unwilling to help Yussef save Saba. The characters and the setting are so richly textured and the politicized events so wrenching that the mystery story becomes incidental. Though the story's conclusion offers a gratifying payoff, for many readers the real reward will be a more immediate sense of a distant and bewildering conflict. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
In this outstanding debut, Rees, formerly the Jerusalem bureau chief for Time magazine and author of Cain's Field: Faith, Fratricide, and Fear in the Middle East, presents modern-day Bethlehem, an ancient city of tremendous historical and religious significance, torn apart by constant attacks and reprisals between Israelis and Palestinians. Even the police chief is a former terrorist, now so sodden with drink that he is seemingly unable or unwilling to stand up to daily violence and corruption spawned by the Martyrs Brigade, a gang of thugs who are the city's de-facto rulers. Enter Omar Yussef, a longtime schoolteacher now at a UN school for refugees, perhaps the last man of conscience in the war-weary city. When a favorite ex-student, a Christian Palestinian, is arrested and charged with collaborating with the Israelis, Yussef must investigate to save his life, even if it means endangering his own. Yussef is a compelling hero with a strong moral core; despite his advanced age and infirmity, he doggedly pursues justice. Evoking a strong sense of place, this nontraditional mystery is bleak, philosophical, and powerful; an excellent addition to any collection. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 10/1/06.]-Christine Perkins, Burlington P.L., WA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Time correspondent Rees (Cain's Field: Faith, Fratricide, and Fear in the Middle East, not reviewed) poses an absurd but thoroughly logical question in this first of a series: What opportunities do the strife-torn Palestinian Territories offer for detective work?One of the principal pleasures of Omar Yussef Sirhan's life is keeping up with his former students from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency Girls School. Less than a day after Omar Yussef, a Palestinian Christian who stopped believing in God long before he stopped drinking, shares coffee with George Saba, a former pupil now selling antiques in Beit Jala, George is arrested on suspicion of having set up Louai Abdel Rahman, the bridegroom of another of Omar Yussef's old pupils, to be murdered by the Israelis. George's 15-minute trial and death sentence takes place with shocking dispatch, but not before someone kills his wife. Omar's old friend Khamis Zeydan, Bethlehem police chief, assumes that her death is an unrelated sex crime. So Omar Yussef, desperate to prove George's innocence before he can be executed, takes to the mean streets-and are they ever mean. The local chapter of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is so consumed by fear, loathing and internal power struggles that they're willing to do anything to destroy the collaborator and protect their own reputation. In a city already divided by hatred, Omar Yussef's sleuthing is bound to be anticlimactic. But no one will forget his violent world.