5 March 2009 0 Comments

Bookslut: The Samaritan’s Secret "Cool Read"

In popular blog Bookslut, Colleen Mondor has a terrific review of a series of books set overseas, giving it a particular slant toward young readers. She designates my new Palestinian crime novel, THE SAMARITAN’S SECRET, her “cool read” of the week. You can see other reviews by Colleen here, but meanwhile this is what she writes about my novel:

The Samaritan’s Secret, third in the Omar Yussef series by Matt Beynon Rees, continues his exploration of Palestinian life. Following the first book The Collaborator of Bethlehem and the second, A Grave in Gaza, this entry sends Yussef to the city of Nablus where the theft of a religious artifact from a small relatively unknown group sets off a mystery involving hundreds of millions of missing dollars and the political machinations of Hamas, Fatah and many who have no allegiance to anyone other than themselves. As he did in the first two novels, Yussef is unwavering in his dedication to the dead. This unlikeliest of heroes, a history teacher, puts his knowledge of the region to good use as he gets to the bottom of a murder and determines just how much can be revealed so that no one else ends up dead.

While Rees is clearly accomplished at crafting tight plots and surprises, it is his depth of knowledge about the Middle East that truly elevates these titles. Many Western readers will find the mysteries alone appealing and then fall into the twists and turns of contemporary Palestinian life. Rees, who lives in Jerusalem and was Time magazine’s bureau chief between 2000 and 2006, makes it clear that whatever we think we might know about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it pales in comparison to an intimate portrayal of the day-to-day reality. The best part is that the Yussef titles are focused on Palestinian life and the characters, good and bad, are richly drawn examples of the men and women the media all too often shows only as caricatures — as the clichéd grieving parent, enraged militant, tortured child. Rees gives us families like any other, committed friendships, and leaders motivated far more by greed than religious devotion. He gives readers people they can recognize and understand and thus he transforms a part of the world that has been determinedly presented as foreign into someplace we recognize; someplace that in many ways we already know.

The Omar Yussef mysteries are an excellent way for curious minded older teens to learn about this tremendously troubled and significant region. While The Samaritan’s Secret is a very intense read with a surprising number of personal moments, I recommend readers start with the first book so they can get to know Yussef from the beginning. I find myself enjoying this series more and more with each new title and being surprised all over again by how little I know about Palestinian life.

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