Winner IPPY Silver in Mystery and IndieFab Finalist in Mystery and Multicultural Fiction
When Raniathe only female Palestinian police detective in the northern West Bank, as well as a young mother in a rural community where many believe women should not have such a dangerous careerdiscovers the body of a foreign woman on the edge of her village, no one seems to want her look too deeply into what’s happened. But she finds an ally in Chloea gay, Jewish-American peace worker with a camera and a big attitudeand together, with the help of an annoying Israeli policeman, they work to solve the murder. As they do, secrets about war crimes and Israel’s thriving sex trafficking trade begin to surfaceand Rania finds everything she holds dear in jeopardy.
Fast-paced and intricately plotted, Murder Under The Bridge offers mystery lovers an intimate view of one of the most fraught political conflicts on the planet.
About the Author
Kate Raphael is a San Francisco Bay Area writer, feminist and queer activist and radio journalist, who makes her living as a law firm word processor. She lived in Palestine for eighteen months as a member of the International Women’s Peace Service, documenting human rights abuses and accompanying Palestinians as they attempted to live normal lives under occupation. At the end of her time in Palestine, she was imprisoned for over a month by the Israeli authorities and eventually deported. In 2011, she won a residency at Hedgebrook. She produces the weekly radio show, Women’s Magazine, on KPFA/Pacifica, which is heard throughout Northern and Central California. Her writing from Palestine has been included in the anthology Peace Under Fire (Verso), Reclaiming Quarterly , Left Turn, and websites including miftah and palestinemonitor.
Read an Excerpt
Murder Under the Bridge
A Palestine Mystery
By Kate Jessica Raghael
She Writes PressCopyright © 2015 Kate Raphael
All rights reserved.
Rania placed the little brass coffee pot on the flame, resting one hand on the long handle so she could snatch it up before it boiled over. Her mouth tingled in anticipation as she inhaled the cardamom-laced steam.
"The boss wants you," said Abdelhakim at her elbow. The man must wear sheepskin soles, he crept up on her so silently. His cherubic good looks were spoiled by a permanent smirk.
Rania reached for the knob to quench the flame, but he held out a hand to stop her. He grasped the pot's handle as she let it go, taking care that their hands did not touch. She tried not to let the thought of him drinking her coffee gnaw at her, as she went into the captain's office.
"There is a situation in Azzawiya," Captain Mustafa said. His roly-poly frame spilled out of his overstuffed leather chair.
"What kind of situation?" asked Rania.
"One requiring great tact."
Rania knew the captain well enough to take this as a warning, not a compliment. She was not known for her tact.
Captain Mustafa cleared his throat. Suddenly self-conscious, Rania removed her head scarf. The men were still learning to accept her in this job. Traditionally, women were nurses, engineers and teachers, more recently a few were doctors. Women as police detectives was a new concept. Wearing the hijab made the men she worked with feel like they were talking to one of their sisters or cousins; taking it off made it possible for them to treat her like a colleague. To her it was not important. Sometimes she told her friends, "I think more clearly without something between my brain and the sun," but in fact she felt the same, whether she was wearing it or not.
"A car is abandoned on top of the bridge," Captain Mustafa said.
"A Palestinian car?"
"Yellow plates," he answered.
An Israeli car on an Israeli road. Why should the Palestinian police care about that?
"The Yahud say that the car is stolen," her boss continued. "The jesh have closed the road under the bridge and no one can pass on foot or by car."
Rania understood now why she was being sent on this errand. Mas'ha was her adopted home, her husband's village. If the Israeli army had closed the road between Mas'ha and Azzawiya, it would be necessary to find another way to approach, and she knew the land. She would know many of the people waiting to pass the roadblock and would have a plausible excuse for being there. A woman could surreptitiously gather information, while a Palestinian man moving around an army roadblock asking questions would not last long. The captain hoped she could find out who did what with that stolen car before the army did. She would deliver, if it killed her.
She tied the scarf around her hair again, grabbed her purse and removed a bag of supplies from her desk drawer.
"Tread lightly," Captain Mustafa called after her.
Rania didn't bristle at the caution. It was his job to remind her of things she was likely to forget. On the other hand, she was unlikely to heed his advice.
* * *
She walked out into the street, squinting in the bright spring sunlight. She wondered if she had time to run into the shop for a coffee. Every night, she told herself she would get up early enough to make herself a cup. But every morning when her alarm rang at half past five, she shut it off and did not get up until six. By then she just had time to get Khaled up and ready for school before she had to leave. Since the Israelis put up the roadblocks, she often suggested to Bassam that they rent a little house in Salfit City so she could walk to work. She would love to be away from her mother-in-law's prying eyes, but Bassam did not want to leave his village. He liked being the center of his mother's universe.
She spied a collective taxi, a seven-seat orange Mercedes, at the corner, so she gave up on the coffee and dashed to the car. Two men sat silently in the middle seat, one reading a newspaper, the other talking on his mobile. The one on the phone scooched forward so she could climb awkwardly into the back, gathering her jilbab in one hand to ensure she didn't show anything improper. The fiftyish driver stood next to the open front door, smoking and joking with a friend.
"I am in a hurry," she called out the window. "I can pay the rest of the fares." It could take ten minutes or more to fill the three empty seats. She couldn't afford to wait that long. At least, she didn't want to.
"No problem," the driver said. He ground out the cigarette on the side of the car and climbed into the front seat.
The drive was one of her favorites in Palestine, giving a spectacular view of beautifully groomed olive terraces, the stately buildings of the city visible in the distance. The best thing about the view of the hills was that there were no Israeli settlements in sight. For those few kilometers, which took about twenty minutes to pass, she could almost believe that Palestine was as it had always been.
Today, she was too nervous to enjoy the drive. She wanted to justify her boss's confidence in her by finding something to keep him one step ahead of the Israelis. But she hated working so close to home. Mas'ha, where she lived, and neighboring Azzawiya were small villages with a lot of inbreeding. If anyone from Bassam's family were involved in shady activities, she could end up handing someone a weapon against her husband. His family, in turn, would use that against her, to prove once more that she was a bad wife and mother, that she should be home taking care of Khaled and making more babies to work in their olive groves and two dry goods stores.
Eventually, this argument would lead her to make the point no one wanted to hear — that with the Wall enclosing Mas'ha from both sides, their olive groves would soon be theirs no longer, and no one would be able to come from the nearby villages to shop at their stores. When that happened, her income from the police might stand between her family and starvation, and it could be an advantage to have fewer mouths to feed.
The road was thankfully free of the flying checkpoints that dotted the roads at commute hours. She changed to a private cab at the first roadblock and in fifteen minutes, the bridge loomed before her.
Azzawiya Bridge was really an overpass, where the new Israeli highway ran on top of the old Palestinian road. Normally taxi drivers lined the road under the bridge, waiting to ferry people back and forth between Deir Balut checkpoint and Biddia roadblock. Today, though, a row of medium-sizedstones fifty meters in front blocked the entrance. Rania wondered what good the boulders would do, if the four jeeps and two Hummers under the bridge did not deter someone from trying to drive through. Eight soldiers patrolled the dark underpass, four facing in each direction. All of them caressed the triggers of their M-16s.
Rania's driver stopped a respectful distance from the command center, where the paved road gave way to a dirt track. The track went both ways around a mound of old tires and car parts, as if people whose cars were damaged by the jutting stones simply ripped off the offending part and drove their crippled cars on until they stopped running altogether.
She paid the driver and walked toward the dozens of taxis and vans jammed together pell-mell, waiting to cross the roadblock. Men sat on the hoods and stood in clusters, smoking and craning their necks for a better view. A young boy moved among the men, pouring coffee into tiny paper cups from a brass coffee urn on leather straps draped over his shoulder. Looking south to the Azzawiya side, Rania saw an equally large crowd assembled. To the west, the Mediterranean was just visible, and rising before it the Tel Aviv skyline, a fifteen-minute drive and a world away. In the no-man's land between the bridge and the people, two young soldiers drank Pepsi out of a bottle and kicked a rock as if it were a soccer ball.
To the right of the throng of cars and men, women perched as comfortably as possible on the stone terrace leading down to the olive groves. As Rania expected, she knew many of them, teachers and nurses on their way to work, students heading to the university. They uniformly wore the long dark jilbab and white headscarf. Some wore sneakers or sandals, while others sported heels as high as any Lebanese supermodel's.
"Sabah al-kheir, ya banat," Rania greeted them. Good morning, girls.
"Sabah an-noor, Um Khaled." Mother of Khaled. Just hearing his name brought a little smile to her lips.
Her sister-in-law, Maryam, was there, pink pajama bottoms peeking out from under her jilbab. Maryam hated getting up early even more than Rania did. On her way out of the compound every morning, Rania invariably heard Amir yelling at Maryam that she was going to be late.
"Why aren't you at work?" Maryam asked. "You don't have to go this way."
Would she get more information by pretending to be stuck like everyone else, or by claiming inside knowledge? The latter would be titillating to the women. Hopefully they wouldn't find out just how paltry her information was.
"I went all the way to Salfit and had to come back," she said, playing for sympathy. "Captain Mustafa sent me to see what I could learn about the stolen car."
"That car is stolen?" Salma, a thin young woman who always looked like she had just heard a good joke, leaned forward. Rania followed her finger. She could just make out the dark blue car up on the bridge, the open front doors making it look like a square bird. A platoon of blue-clad men, their vests proclaiming "POLICE" in English and Hebrew, ran back and forth, gesticulating and talking into their hands and shoulders.
"That's what the Yahud said," Rania said. "Have you been here a long time?"
"Sea w nos?" An hour and a half, Salma said, looking at her friends for confirmation.
"Seateen." Two hours, said Um Raad, who worked at the Ministry of Prisoners in Salfit. That probably meant an hour, Rania figured. It matched her guess based on the size of the crowd.
Rania wondered why Um Raad was going this way. It would have made more sense for her to take the same buses as Rania, but she must have her reasons. It didn't matter. Though they were not friends, Rania was glad Um Raad was here. She had been in prison during the First Intifada, and like most former prisoners, spoke fluent Hebrew. If the soldiers had said anything, she would have been the most likely to understand it.
"Did the jesh say anything about the car?" she asked.
"Walla kilme." Not a word, Um Raad said. "They are not in the mood for talking. I asked that one how long it would be and he threatened to arrest me."
She indicated one of the soccer players. Very tall and very thin with a shock of straw-colored hair, he reminded Rania of a broom. If he was in an arresting mood, she would stay away from him. His partner was short and lumbering and kept scratching at his cheek. She walked slowly towards Itchy until he noticed her.
"What do you want?" he asked. He sounded rude but not aggressive, and she gave him credit for speaking English. Most Palestinian men in this area knew Hebrew, but few women did. Even those who understood a fair amount, like Rania, generally pretended they didn't, in an unspoken pact of resistance.
"Do you know how much longer it will be?" she asked. "We need to get to work."
"Work? What work?" His voice cracked. If he'd spent any time at all at checkpoints, he couldn't be so ignorant as to believe Palestinian women didn't go to work. But she certainly wasn't going to tell him she was a policewoman.
"I'm a teacher," she said.
"Well you might as well go home," he said. He clawed at his cheek, his scraggly nail leaving behind a bloody streak. "School will be out before you can go through."
"Really? Why so long?"
"You see that car?" he pointed in the direction of the blue car. She could see a trace of blood from his cheek on the tip of his finger. "There might be a bomb in it. If it blew up while you were walking under it ..." He waved his arms in an exploding motion.
Rania inched closer to him. "What makes you think there could be a bomb in it?"
He shrugged, scratching his jaw again. "They don't tell me that. They just tell me to keep everyone off the road."
She turned away from the soldiers and started to walk toward the taxi drivers, the best source of information in any Palestinian town. A sharp crack made her spin around. She didn't see what had made the sound, but she saw the soldiers tense. The Broom shouldered his rifle, and she heard the clip slide into place. He tore off up the hill, his itchy friend plodding after him.
"Atah tamut hayom," The Broom yelled suddenly, at no one she could see.
Rania jumped into action, moving toward him with no clear goal. You are going to die today, he had said.
Young men from the village nearby must be engaging in their favorite pastime: throwing stones at the army.
"Do you really want to kill a child?" she asked, running alongside The Broom and trying not to pant.
He made the gesture with clumped thumb and fingers that meant "Wait," and aimed his gun at the kids. She stayed near him, weighing the options. Standing in between a soldier and the stone-thrower he was bent on murdering would not fall under Captain Mustafa's definition of treading lightly. Plus she didn't want to get shot. But she could not simply move back and let him kill someone.
More stones rained down from the hillside. One passed dangerously close to her head. That would be the most ignominious thing of all, to be trying to protect the kids and get hit with one of their projectiles.
"Haji, go down!" one of the invisible youths called. The respectful appellation was more humiliating yet. She was not haji yet, not by a long shot. In her mind, she was barely out of her stone-throwing teens, when she had been better with a slingshot than half the boys in the refugee camp. She pumped her legs, willing herself to move faster, to get ahead of the soldiers and in a position to reason with the kids. Not that she had a clue what she would say to them.
The soldier fired in the air. The shot was so loud, it made her ears throb.
"Khalas, don't!" she shouted, in Arabic for the kids and English for the soldiers. She hated these games, even as she knew the kids needed the outlet for their rage. Who were they, anyway, and why weren't they in school? She couldn't see if they were youngsters, or young adults. She pushed herself forward, recoiling as another shot rang out. She finally passed The Broom, and could glimpse one of his targets up on the hill. She turned around to plead with him. More stones thudded to the ground at her feet.
"Please," she shouted, targeting her words at the shorter soldier, who had made it to his friend's side. "Go back down, and I will get them to stop throwing stones."
"You go down," The Broom growled. "You are not allowed here, it's a closed military zone. If you don't leave, I will arrest you."
"Fine, if you are arresting me, then you won't be shooting at the children."
He actually stopped and looked at her then. She imagined his thought process. Drop his pursuit of a group of young men armed with stones, to arrest a tiny woman for mouthing off? Still, could he shrug off her disrespect for his supreme authority? He took one step closer to her, his finger still on the trigger of his M-16. She was so close, she could count the tiny whiskers on his cheek. He reached toward her with his left hand, his right still clutching the rifle. She wanted to back up, but she would not allow herself that.
"You know, you're on film," a clear voice carried on the wind.
A foreign woman was striding toward them, video camera pointed straight at The Broom's face. Rania's eyes quickly took in the woman's wild curls, black jeans faded in the knees, and baggy beige polo shirt. The other woman flashed her a smile, showing an appealing gap between her front teeth. The Broom swiveled, his rifle now pointed squarely at the other woman's face. Relief washed over Rania, and she surreptitiously moved out of striking range.
"You're not supposed to leave your post, are you?" the foreigner said to The Broom.
He did not answer, just peered through the sight on his rifle into the lens of the camera. Rania held her breath. If his finger moved on the trigger, the woman's head would explode. How could she just stand there, calmly filming him?
Seconds ticked by, each one feeling like an hour. The rain of stones had stopped. The boys must be transfixed by the scene below them.
"Yalla." Let's go, The Broom said to Itchy. He slid the cartridge of bullets out of his rifle and they scrambled down the hillside.
Rania exhaled sharply.
"You're very brave," she said to the other woman.
"Not really," the other woman shrugged. "I really didn't think he'd shoot me. I'm Chloe."
Excerpted from Murder Under the Bridge by Kate Jessica Raghael. Copyright © 2015 Kate Raphael. Excerpted by permission of She Writes Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Sex trafficking, murder, Palestinian / Israeli conflict, investigated by a female Palestinian cop who faces roadblocks by both Israeli government and Palestinian culture. Throw in a gay, American activist and you have four storylines that merge into a compelling novel.
Immediately engrosing, this book offers a good immersion into the cultures of the people and what may motivate them as applied to this mystery. The puzzle is unraveled in spite if varios characters efforts to keep it sealed.
Social Change in a Damn Good Story When I first subscribed to Kate Raphael’s blog twelve years ago, I sometimes joined other readers in posting the comment: “Please write a book!” Ms. Raphael, a Bay Area writer and gay-rights activist, spent each autumn back then in the West Bank, assisting in the olive harvest. She wrote about and photographed what she saw in her work with organizations including Jews for a Free Palestine—families working their groves while Israeli tanks blocked access to water and transportation routes, activists clamoring for media attention to the farmers’ struggles, students and professional people managing their daily lives in a hostile environment. As the seasons passed, her readers came to recognize village and family names. We were disturbed by the confiscation of Raphael’s camera and shocked over her sudden arrest on a vague charge related to refusal to submit to a search of her purse. We later worried after each of her subsequent arrests on increasingly serious charges, and finally her deportation after a nine-month sojourn. I had seen televised images of houses being bulldozed and olive groves being uprooted, and remember feeling stunned in 2004 when The Economist printed a photo of a freshly erected section of the 25-foot-tall concrete “fence” being constructed by the Israeli government, dividing towns and separating farming families from their ancestral groves and fields. It was this image that led me to Kate Raphael’s writing in the first place. Raphael’s blogs revealed a phenomenon that in some ways disturbed me even more than the dramatic news images, because she was so accustomed to it that she mentioned it almost in passing: the daily “checkpoints,” with their built-in humiliation and aggravation. Imagine my disappointment several months ago when I learned that Kate Raphael would soon be releasing her first book—a murder mystery. I am not a regular reader of mysteries, and I began reading "Murder Under the Bridge" expecting to find that the author had compromised in some way. The book quickly pulled me up short. I was chastened and became enthralled with one of the book’s central characters, a Palestinian detective—the only woman on the force, who navigates through the political and military upheaval brought about by the occupation while also dealing with the routine sexist barriers and condescension familiar to all women in male-dominated professions. At a recent event in San Francisco, Kate Raphael shared, while explaining her love of mysteries: “I learned everything I think I know about the Navajo Nation from Tony Hillerman.” In "Murder Under the Bridge," she tells the world some of what she knows about Palestine, entwined with a complex murder mystery, a chaotic police procedural, and a juicy clandestine lesbian romance. Kate Raphael speaks touchingly of her childhood devotion to Israel. The Jewish National Fund has long sponsored a “plant a tree in Israel” campaign, to which Raphael and countless other Jewish kids in the U.S. donated money out of their lawn-mowing and babysitting revenues. She has spent her adult life coming to terms with what has been done with the money so innocently donated, and the billions in military aid provided by U.S. taxpayers. She comments ruefully on the irony of “planted trees” that can never replace the uprooted olive groves. This book has educated and inspired me while engaging and entertaining me.
I was hooked from the moment Rania, the Palestinian police detective and protagonist of MURDER UNDER THE BRIDGE, finds the body of a young, foreign woman under a highway bridge outside the West Bank village of Azzawiya. The first novel of the Palestine Mystery series is a page-turner. The author’s portrayal of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation opens a window onto a world that most readers wouldn’t otherwise see through the lens of news and op-eds from and about this part of the world. Raphael’s matter-of-fact portrayal -- the intricate and engrossing scenery against which her mystery plays out -- is filled with delicious cross-cultural counterpoint as Rania works her murder case with occasional help from a solidarity activist named Chloe, who is American, Jewish, and a lesbian. Chloe’s bold determination and driven empathy makes her as much a sister to Rania in their common sense of justice (and obstinate resolve to see it realized) as the two are opposite in nationality, religion, and sexuality. This combustive mix of similarity and juxtaposition also surfaces in Rania’s wary co-investigation of the murder with Israeli detective Benny Lazar. Rania holds a guarded respect for her Israeli counterpart, despite his frustrating obliviousness to the threat of haram (shame) in the eyes of her community as she travels, interviews suspects, and lunches alone with a colleague who is both a man and an Israeli. The tension between Fatah and Hamas is unavoidable in a story set in the West Bank, but inter-Palestinian politics too are rendered not in wild, accusatory polemic, but in the recognizably-everyday business of behind-the-back jockeying for position and advantage in the bureaucracy of a police department. The constant backbeat of invisibility and dismissal that both Rania and Chloe face as women operating in social territory claimed by men is drawn with sharp humor. In one of my favorite scenes, three Israeli police officers can’t find the deportation prison to which they are supposed to be taking Chloe and, classically, drive around and around the coastal city of Hadera into the wee hours of morning rather than stop and ask directions. By the time they arrive at the razor-wired complex at two in the morning, Chloe reflects that, “She had never been so glad to see the inside of a prison.” A great read, with twists at the end that leave readers with a vivid sense of just how far complicity with occupation and exploitation extends even into the ranks of Israeli progressives. Still, the book offers hope that seekers of justice -- in this book, characters drawn from Israeli, Palestinian, and Jewish-American cultures -- will continue to act with compassion and integrity, even at the risk of offending their fractious compatriots. (I received a free, advance reader copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.)
Murder Under the Bridge is a really good mystery story, with absorbing characters, plot twists, and an unexpected resolution. But it’s so much more than that. Through this book I felt like I got to experience the daily life and struggles of a Palestinian woman -- the first woman cop on the Palestinian police force, struggling to balance her commitment to her job, her devotion to her husband and son, and her own blunt and outspoken nature. I could totally identify with her dilemmas in dealing with everything from Israeli authority to her interfering mother-in-law. Coincidence leads her to explore a mysterious death with the help of an American Jewish activist for Palestinian rights. She’s dealing with her own issues: her role as an outsider and a complicated love affair with a Palestinian woman who grew up in Australia. The story winds through a landscape that includes Palestinians’ daily interactions with Israeli soldiers, Israeli trafficking in women, and other aspects of life under occupation. But there are also lots of details that make you feel like you’re there -- descriptions of food, everyday conversations among women, the landscape. Even if you could afford the plane fare and overcome the bureaucratic obstacles to visiting the West Bank, you could not get this kind of view of real life there. Plus it’s a good mystery story.
This book is an impressive feat. The author has an in-depth background, knowledge, and experience to back it too. It's incredibly well written and entertaining. The idea of a Palestinian police detective who is also a woman is what really intrigued me, as this is such a foreign idea in such a foreign culture to me. I know almost nothing about this culture, and I was worried that would hinder the read but it didn't. Raphael does an impeccable job introducing the culture and the way people live in it. Not only is Rania, the Palestinian policewoman, a character to whom I can relate, but Raphael also adds a second point of view character who is American, but she gives her a unique twist by making her a Jewish, lesbian, activist! I love this because I hate boring characters and these characters are certainly not boring! Then if interweaving all of these cultural ideas and viewpoints wasn't difficult enough, Raphael does an impressive job navigating and introducing the reader to the variety of language that these characters would be using in reality, that is Arabic, Hebrew, and English. If all of this wasn't impressive enough, then Raphael adds in an intriguing and twisting murder mystery of a European woman who was brought over through sex trafficking. This book draws upon so much - politics, religion, women's rights, foreign issues and culture and then to add in the entertaining aspect of the mystery, it just keeps the book right on going. Very impressive, intelligent, enlightening, and entertaining! A must read!