The Samaritan's Secret

The Samaritan's Secret

by Matt Rees


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The third installment in the CWA Dagger–winning series featuring Palestinian schoolteacher-detective Omar Yussef.
The Samaritan community in Palestine is tiny but ancient—only about six hundred people still adhere to this faith, an offshoot of Judaism, and now one of them has been murdered. The crime has even larger implications, though, as the dead man controlled hundreds of millions of dollars of government money. If the World Bank cannot locate it within the next several days, all aid to the Palestinians will be cut off. Visiting the isolated Samaritan community at Nablus in the West Bank, history teacher-turned-sleuth Omar Yussef must solve the murder and find the money for the sake of all Palestine.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616959814
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 05/07/2019
Series: Omar Yussef Series , #3
Edition description: Reprint
Sales rank: 522,598
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Matt Rees was born in South Wales. He was previously the Jerusalem bureau chief for TIME magazine. He is the author of three other mysteries in the Omar Yussef series, the historical novel Mozart’s Last Aria, and the nonfiction work Cain’s Field: Faith, Fratricide, and Fear in the Middle East. After living in the Middle East for twenty years, he recently moved to Luxembourg.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
Lime green paint on the domes of the neighborhood mosques punctuated the khaki limestone in the Nablus casbah. Like tarnished copper tacks, they seemed to pin the Ottoman souk and the Mamluk caravanserai to the floor of the valley. Otherwise even the stones might get up and run away from this dirty town, Omar Yussef thought.
     The distant siren of an ambulance rumbled in the stomach of the city and Omar Yussef felt the last crispness of dawn burn away in the sun. With his habitually shaky hand, he stroked the meager white hairs covering his baldness and clicked his tongue. These few strands wouldn’t save his scalp from sunburn, and he could see that the day would be hot. Sweat itched behind his tidy gray mustache. He scratched his upper lip petulantly.
     He turned from the valley and contemplated the sparse spring grass stippling the rocky flank of Mount Jerizim. Let’s see who gets burned worse—you or me, he thought. The mountain arced, sullen and taut, to the row of mansions on its ridge, as though tensing its shoulders to endure the heat of the day.
     A turquoise police car pulled up. The driver’s window lowered and a smoldering cigarette butt spun onto the sidewalk. “Greetings, ustaz,” Sami Jaffari said. “Get in.”
     Omar Yussef left the paltry shade of the lacquered pinewood canopy outside his hotel, opened the door of the patrol car and stretched a stiff leg into the passenger’s side.
     “Grandpa, morning of joy.”
     Bracing himself against the car door, Omar Yussef looked up. From the balcony of a second floor room, his granddaughter waved. In her other hand, she clutched a book. He wiggled his fingers to her in greeting. “Morning of light, Nadia, my darling,” he said.
     “Don’t forget, you’re taking me to eat qanafi today.”
     Omar Yussef’s mustache curled downward. Sweet things were not to his taste. But Nablus was famous for this dessert of goat cheese and syrupy shredded wheat, and this was Nadia’s first time in the town. He anticipated that the inquisitive, methodical thirteen-year-old would want to compare the qanafi from a range of bakeries and he would have to gulp it all down and grin indulgently. Even his considerable prejudice in culinary matters couldn’t outweigh his love for this girl. He waved to her again. “If Allah wills it, we’ll eat qanafi soon,” he said.
     “Sami, make sure you bring my grandpa back in time for a midmorning snack in the casbah,” Nadia called.
      “He’s on official police business now,” Sami shouted. “We have to investigate the theft of a valuable historical relic.”
      “I’m warning you. I’ll tell Meisoun to call off the wedding, if you don’t bring him back in time. She won’t marry you if I tell her you’re not nice to little girls.”
     Sami stuck out his tongue and put a thumb to his nose. Nadia giggled as the car pulled away from the curb. “You’re going to get fat in Nablus, Abu Ramiz,” Sami said, slapping Omar Yussef on the knee.
     “It’s you who’ll start to gain weight, because by the end of this week you’ll have a wife to cook for you.”
     Sami swerved to avoid a long, yellow taxi that drifted languidly out of a side street. He rummaged for a pack of Dunhills in the glove compartment. “Police work in Palestine keeps me thin,” he said, shaking a cigarette loose and lighting it. “It’s four parts nervous tension and one part genuine danger. I burn more calories thinking about my day than most people would by running a marathon.”
     Sami had become leaner since Omar Yussef last saw him in Gaza almost a year earlier. In the police car, Omar’s initial impression was of a healthy, contented young man, but as he looked harder he sensed this was a mask for something apprehensive and angry. It was as though the police officer had been forced to swallow the criminal outrages of Nablus and had found that they ate away his muscle and left his flesh tight on his bones.
     Sami picked his teeth, discolored almost to the shade of his tan by the thick coffee he drank to stay awake on long shifts. “I’m looking forward to seeing my old childhood friends at my wedding,” he said. “I’m very lucky that you and your sons were able to get permits to pass through the checkpoints. It’s been years since I spent time with Ramiz and even longer since I saw Zuheir.”
     Omar Yussef forced a smile.
     Sami lifted his palm, questioningly. “What’s wrong?”
     “Zuheir is much changed.” Omar Yussef looked at his feet. “He’s become very religious.”
     “Then he’ll be at home in Nablus. This place is one big mosque.”
     “He’s very different from the boy who went off to study in Britain a few years ago.” He thought of the square-cut beard and the loose white cotton his son had taken to wearing, the regular prayers and the stern disapproving face. He didn’t know how far his son had ventured into the unbending world of indignant imams, but the question disturbed him.
     “It’s lucky you gave up alcohol, or Zuheir would be trying to force some major lifestyle changes on you,” Sami said with a smile.
     “If I hadn’t given up alcohol, it would’ve killed me and I might not have lived long enough to see my son become an adherent of a crazy, hard-line version of our religion.”
     “May Allah forbid it.” Sami slapped Omar Yussef’s thigh. “Enough of such thoughts. This is a day of pleasures. I have to go down to the casbah later to finalize arrangements for the wedding with the sheikh. Then we’ll have a reunion with your sons at the hotel.”
     “After we’ve checked on the theft at the Samaritan synagogue and talked to their priest.”
     Sami shrugged. “Crime is also one of the pleasures of Nablus.”
     “I’m a connoisseur. Thank you for bringing me.”
     “I knew you’d be intrigued, as a history teacher who’s knowledgeable about all elements of Palestinian culture.” Sami sucked in some smoke. “They are part of Palestinian culture, aren’t they?”
     “The Samaritans? They’ve been here longer than we have, Sami. They claim to be descended from some biblical Israelites who remained in this area when their brethren were exiled to Babylon. In a way, they’re Palestinians and Jews and neither, all at the same time.”
     Sami pulled over and peered out of the window. “I think it’s in here,” he said.
     Omar Yussef raised himself out of the passenger seat with a grunt. His back ached after the long ride from Bethlehem the previous day, squashed into a taxi with his wife, his granddaughter and two of his sons. To bypass the security checks around Jerusalem, they had taken the desert backroads. He was fifty-seven and unfit, so the bumpy ride and the heat had exhausted him.
     On the sidewalk, Omar Yussef straightened his spine. He pushed his remaining hair into place with his palm and nudged his gold-framed glasses to the bridge of his nose with the tip of his index finger.
     He looked up a walkway of cracked steps between two apartment buildings, bright green weeds cutting through the polished stone paving, creeping over the railings at each side of the path. The door of the Samaritan synagogue, set forty yards back from the road, was a tasteless metal panel painted brown to look like wood. Seven bulbous lights on long, upright stems surmounted the stone canopy at the entrance. The building was a low square faced in the same limestone as the apartment blocks around it. Its basement level was painted pink.
     “I thought it would be older than this,” Sami said. He stamped out his cigarette and set off up the steps.
    “They had a much older synagogue down in the casbah,” Omar Yussef said, “but they left the old town fifty years ago, because their Muslim neighbors wouldn’t sell them land to expand their homes as their community grew. So they moved up here.”
     Sami waited at the top of the first flight of steps. “But they don’t even live here anymore.” He pointed above the roof of the synagogue to a cluster of buildings on the ridge of Mount Jerizim. “They went up there, out of the way of everyone.”
     “Out of the way of the first intifada, Sami. Those were violent times in Nablus. You can’t blame people for trying to get away.”
     They reached the final set of steps. To their left, grilles of curling black metal guarded the six arched windows of the synagogue.
     “The bars on that first window are new,” Omar Yussef said. “They’re the only ones that aren’t rusty.”
     Sami leaned over the railing at the side of the entrance and examined the bars. “You’re right, Abu Ramiz. The window has been scorched by something, too.”
     Omar Yussef glanced at the ledge. Jagged black smudges slashed the polished stone. In the yard below, a square frame of rusty metal leaned against the pink wall, its bottom edge ripped away. “The original bars.” He turned to Sami and smiled with one side of his mouth. “As the representative of the police, I think perhaps you might draw some conclusions from this.”
     Sami tapped the new black grille. “The thieves got in through this window.”
     Omar Yussef rubbed his chin. “Thieves who had enough explosives to blow away those bars.”
     “Nablus isn’t short of explosives experts.”
     “But it is short of Samaritans, and even shorter of their priceless historical documents.”
     Sami lit another cigarette and took in some smoke with a sharp breath. “Let’s go and see this priest.”

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The Samaritan's Secret (Omar Yussef Series #3) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Nablus, Palestine, someone murders Palestinian Authority employee Ishaq and apparently stole the millions he controlled as part of his government job. The World Bank is furious with the shoddy funds control and the strong possibility of government corruption involved in the theft; they threaten to cut off future financing unless the money is found and used appropriately.

Fifty-seven year old Palestinian history teacher Omar Yussef knows investigating on the West Bank is dangerous, but gets involved anyway. He quickly realizes no one in Nablus thought highly of the deceased; in fact most people scorned Ishaq as a bad Samaritan, who even in death gets no respect. He soon finds the murder and theft tied to religion and politics and if he is not careful he could become victim number two.

The third Yussef amateur sleuth mystery is a timely exciting tale that provides an in depth look at the Palestine situation from the Moslem perspective. Yussef is a terrific hero who just wants to be an educator, but feels obligated to investigate. Although his inquiries in this case and his previous two seem implausible, no one will care as THE SAMARITAN¿S SECRET like A GRAVE IN GAZA and A COLLABORATOR IN BETHLEHEM are superb thrillers because of the profound glimpse into Palestine.

Harriet Klausner
reannon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the third of the Omar Yussef mysteries by Matt Beynon Rees, who is the former Jerusalem bureau chief for Time. This is the first of the series that I've read.Omar Yussef travels to Nablus with his family to be part of the wedding celebration of his friend Sami, a policeman. While there, they find the body of a Samaritan, one of about 600 left of this ancient people. The dead man is the son of a priest and was a financial adviser to "the old man" (Yassir Arafat), and then to a wealthy businessman. About $300 million in Palestine Authority funds are missing, and if the World Bank can't find the missing money it will put a stop to all its development projects in the Palestinian areas. No one but Omar seems to be willing to look for the money, and incidentally, solve the murder. Conflict between supporters of Fatah (Arafat's party) and Hamas means doing anything in Nablus is dangerous.It was a little hard to get into the book because of how unfamiliar the culture is to me. On the other hand, that is also one of the book's chief charms. I really enjoy books that teach me about an unfamiliar culture, or profession, while giving me a nice mystery to chew on. In the end, there were some things I wasn't entirely clear on, but I enjoyed the book enough to want to read the first two in the series (The Collaborator of Bethlehem and A Grave in Gaza).Disclaimer: I received my copy of the book free for reviewing it for the Amazon Vine program.
SamSattler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Omar Yussef just can¿t help himself. His strong belief that evildoers should pay for their crimes has, much to the delight of his 13-year-old granddaughter, turned this aging Palestinian into a reluctant detective. At 57 years of age, and seemingly in poorer shape than most men that age, our U.N. school teacher often finds it difficult to meet the physical demands of his work as an amateur detective but he refuses to let his frailness stop him. When he happens upon a bad situation he might be able to fix, Omar is willing to do battle against the corrupt politicians and murderers of Palestine, be they Hamas or Fatah, if that is what it takes to right a wrong."The Samaritan¿s Secret," the third book in Matt Beynon Rees¿ Omar Yussef series, will not disappoint readers who enjoyed the series¿ first two books. This time around, Omar has put aside his job teaching history at a Bethlehem United Nations school long enough to come to Nablus with his wife, sons, and granddaughter for the wedding of a young policeman friend. Nablus is home to a 600-strong Samaritan community sitting atop a mountain overlooking the city. The Samaritans, having been persecuted by the Muslim population in the past, have isolated themselves on the mountain for their own safety and to avoid the perpetual conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis. But now one of the Samaritans has been murdered and Omar, out of curiosity, tags along when his young policeman friend is called in to investigate the crime.Omar soon learns that the murder victim, Ishaq, was far from being the typical Samaritan. The young man was, in fact, in charge of the personal finances of former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat and was with the old president when he died in Paris. Now, some $300 million dollars is missing and it is believed that Ishaq knew where all the money was hidden. Omar¿s questions lead him to an American woman representing the World Bank who came to Nablus to meet with Ishaq about the missing money. She tells Omar that, unless the stolen money is found and returned to the proper bank account by the end of the week, the World Bank will cut off all aid to Palestine. Omar realizes what a catastrophe this would be for the Palestinian people and he is determined to find the missing millions before others can steal the money for themselves.Rees writes solid detective fiction but the real reason I so much enjoy his books is his ability to immerse me deeply into a world I would otherwise never experience. He portrays the daily chaos and violence of Palestine through the eyes of its commons citizens, people simply trying to get on with their everyday lives in a place where keeping their families safe is a constant challenge. Rees vividly portrays the claustrophobic atmosphere created by unpredictable clashes with the Israelis, internal violence between Fatah and Hamas, corrupt politicians using assassination for personal gain, and the inability to leave the territory for a safer location.Amidst all the violence, Rees shows how people still manage to fall in love, start families, and get on with life. That is the real beauty of the Omar Yussef series.Rated at: 4.0
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