21 May 2008 0 Comments

Bookreporter: ‘Add Rees and Yussef to your must-read list’

At the Bookreporter.com site you’ll find a terrific review by Joe Hartlaub of the second Omar Yussef Mystery, A Grave in Gaza (UK title The Saladin Murders), which describes it as a “must-read”: http://www.bookreporter.com/reviews2/9781569474723.asp

Here’s the full review:

Omar Yussef is a decent man in a very bad place. He is the principal and teacher at a United Nations-run school in Bethlehem, achieving his post through what passes for attrition in the area (the former principal was killed by a bomb). While Yussef is a fictitious character, the creation of reporter Matt Beynon Rees, there is a real-world sense about him that for all practical purposes transcends the fiction in which he appears. To put it another way, Rees has the goods like few others do.

A GRAVE IN GAZA is only the second in a series of Omar Yussef mysteries, but the character is such that, upon beginning this masterful novel, you feel as if you are meeting an old friend, albeit under horrible circumstances. It is Yussef’s lot to escort his new boss, Magnus Wallender, on a tour of UN schools in the Gaza Strip. Rees thoughtfully includes a map of the area as an introduction to A GRAVE IN GAZA, one that speaks volumes even before you get into the meat of the book. One can hardly imagine how such a small territory can be the focal point of so much misery, yet there it is. No matter; Yussef and Wallender have barely arrived in Gaza when they are mired in controversy.

Eyad Masharawi, a teacher at one of the UN schools who also works at a local university, has accused the head of the institution of selling degrees. He is almost immediately arrested and charged with collaborating with the CIA. Despite being warned off of involvement in their attempts to free Masharawi, Wallender and Yussef persist. Wallender is then inexplicably kidnapped by a shadowy group of outlaws who hold him for ransom, demanding in exchange the freedom of one of their members, who himself is under arrest for the murder of an officer of one of the Palestinian security forces. When another UN official is killed in a roadside bomb explosion, the UN, except for Yussef, officially withdraws from the area.

Yussef is left to attempt to save both Wallender and Masharawi. His only guidance is the maxim that in Gaza, all crimes are connected. Yussef is left to somehow connect the dots, improbable as such a task may be, between Mashawari’s arrest, Wallender’s kidnapping, the officer’s murder — and the theft of a prototype missile that was to be reverse-engineered and used against the Israelis. Unable to fully trust even his friends, Yussef is at risk in a land where the only consistent rule is that the man who is in front of you is merely the next in line to kill you.

It is difficult to adequately describe how well written A GRAVE IN GAZA is. Rees easily could have made Israel the scapegoat for each of the events taking place in this series or picked a more likely protagonist (A Palestinian? Working for the UN? As a hero?). Yussef, however, is wonderful, struggling not so much against groups as against individuals who are the manifestation of evil in the middle of what could be reasonably equated an interfamilial barfight that has lasted for thousands of years. What is equally noteworthy, though, is that while Rees has done yeoman’s work in accurately depicting the backdrop of this tale, he has also created an intriguing mystery with a satisfactory solution. Add Rees and Yussef to your must-read list.

— Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub

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