12 February 2010 0 Comments

Why’s a Palestinian sleuth in Brooklyn?

I’ve been called the Dashiell Hammett of Palestine, the John Le Carre of the Middle East, the James Ellroy of…Palestine, the Graham Greene of Jerusalem, and the Georges Simenon of the Palestinian refugee camps. Depends which review you happen to have read.

I’ve published three previous novels about Omar Yussef, my Palestinian schoolteacher/sleuth. Omar has been called the Philip Marlowe of the Arab street, the Hercules Poirot of the Near East, Sam Spade fed on hummus, and Miss Marple crossed with Yasser Arafat.

Why then is my new Omar Yussef novel THE FOURTH ASSASSIN set in New York City? Not in the Middle East, the Near East, Palestine, the Levant, the Fertile Crescent, or any other place where Yasser may be copulating with Miss Jane Marple.

I lived in New York six years, until I came to Jerusalem in 1996. I know it better than any city outside the Middle East. I had a lot of fun in New York. Maybe too much fun. In no other place in the world can a young man so overindulge in the temptations originally offered in the city of Sodom. Which in reality is close to where I live now in Jerusalem. Though you wouldn’t know it to look at the place.

I know New York with my eyes closed. Literally. In my twenties, after leaving some bar or club, I blacked out on every line on the subway map.

I dated women from every borough of the city, from Westchester and upstate. From the 201 area code (dare I say, New Jersey.)

I married a girl from the North Shore of Long Island, and in my continuing effort to know New York in all its facets, when we divorced, I married a beautiful woman from the South Shore of Long Island.

But each time I returned, no matter how well I thought I knew the place, New York seemed different. The change became most apparent after 9/11. I wanted to understand it through the eyes of Omar Yussef.

That’s why he finds himself in Brooklyn in THE FOURTH ASSASSIN. Visiting the area of Bay Ridge that has become known as “Little Palestine,” for the influx of Palestinian immigrants.

Little Palestine isn’t a community of Palestinian intellectual émigrés, such as sprang up in European capitals in the 1970s. It’s a new wave of young men mostly, saving to bring their families over, working two or more jobs. Theirs is a typical American immigrant story.

Except for the FBI agents going through their trash.

The Bureau didn’t uncover any broad conspiracy in Little Palestine. But it did add to the tensions between the Arab community and other New Yorkers after the attack on the Twin Towers.

That’s the situation into which I wanted to place Omar Yussef. Mutual distrust, after all, makes for good crime fiction.

In Brooklyn, it also happens to be real.

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