Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Omar Yussef Mysteries

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Omar Yussef Mysteries

Article excerpt

The Collaborator of Bethlehem

Mariner Books, 2007, paperback, 264 pp. List: $13.95; AET: $11.

A Grave in Gaza

Mariner Books, 2008, paperback, 340 pp. List: $13.95; AET: $11.

The Samaritan's Secret

Soho Crime, 2009, hardcover, 310 pp. List: $24.95; AET: $18.

Reviewed by Janet McMahon and Donald Neff

THE UNLIKELY hero of Matt Beynon Rees' mystery trilogy (soon to be a quartet, with a novel set in Jerusalem) is Omar Yussef, a middle-aged schoolteacher of decidedly unheroic proportions. He is just below average height, Rees tells us in A Grave in Gaza, but "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."

Despite his fragile appearance, Omar Yussef is not without sardonic humor or prickly pride, much less a reluctant bravery that allows him to see through conspiracies and murder. He has his vanities as well, which include expensive maroon loafers and a Mont Blanc pen. And he is a man with a past, a one-time student radical at Damascus University (where he met Khamis Zeydan, now police chief of Bethlehem). Years of heavy drinking and smoking, since given up, have taken a toll on his health.

As the principal of an UNRWA school in Bethlehem, Omar Yussef first becomes involved in investigation when a former student, a Christian, is accused of leading the Israelis to a wanted resistance fighter. Omar Yussef sets out to prove the young man's innocence and save his life-but may be too late.

One wonders how a modern-day Palestinian can be a detective for long, however, since the profession would seem to require freedom of movement. That question is answered in A Grave in Gaza, when Omar Yussef is asked to accompany his UNRWA boss, Magnus Wallender, a Swede stationed in Jerusalem, to Gaza. There he investigates the arrest of an Arab U.N. teacher who had uncovered corruption by the local head of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

In the latest volume, Omar Yussef and his family-including his precocious granddaughter, Nadia, on whom he dotes-are granted permission to attend a friend's wedding in Nablus. (Despite his promises to Nadia, however, he never manages to take her out for a bite of the city's famed qanafi, which is too sweet for her grandfather's taste.) In Nablus Omar Yussef, along with fellow wedding guest Khamis Zeydan, become involved in the theft and mysterious return of a sacred Samaritan scroll, and the search by a World Bank official for $300 million in missing funds controlled by the unnamed late Palestinian president. …

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