The Collaborator of Bethlehem (UK title: The Bethlehem Murders)

The first CWA Dagger-winning novel in the Omar Yussef Mystery series. Winner CWA John Creasey Dagger. Nominee: Quill Best Mystery, Barry First Novel, Macavity First Novel, Prix des Lecteurs.

For decades, Omar Yussef has taught history to the children of Bethlehem. When a favorite former pupil, George Saba, is arrested for collaborating with the Israelis in the killing of a Palestinian guerrilla, Omar is convinced that he has been framed. With George facing imminent execution Omar sets out to prove his innocence. His classroom is bombed and members of his family are threatened. But with no one else willing to stand up for the truth, it’s up to Omar to act, even as bloodshed and heartbreak surround him. (UK title: The Bethlehem Murders)

All it takes is one good man — a detective, of course — to humanize events that confound understanding. In THE COLLABORATOR OF BETHLEHEM, an astonishing first novel by Matt Beynon Rees, the former Jerusalem bureau chief for Time magazine, that honorable man is Omar Yussef, a middle-aged history teacher at a United Nations-run school for Palestinian children outside Bethlehem. Setting a mystery in the epicenter of a war zone challenges the genre conventions, but it doesn’t change the rules. In fact, it clarifies the role of the detective as the voice of reason, crying to be heard above the cacophony of gun-barrel politics. Watching friends die and neighbors turn on one another, Omar Yussef decides that “it’s time for me to scream.” In a world where civilization has broken down into “ignorant, simple-minded, violent politics,” this decent man commits the ultimate act of heroism — keeping an open mind. — New York Times Book Review

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Rees tells this grim story with skill, specificity and richly detailed descriptions of people and places. Here, for example, is the terrified judge who presides over Saba’s sham trial: “He was a portly man with skin the color and softness of coffee cake and gray hair that puffed high and back like a French crooner. His mouth was set and angry, but his eyes shifted with fear.” The Collaborator of Bethlehem is readable and literate, and offers a vivid portrait of Palestinian life today — Washington Post

Matt Rees has given us an incredible tapestry. It’s a wonderful, wonderful book. A fantastically original book” — BBC Radio 4 Front Row

The murder mystery is intricate and clever, but what makes this book so outstanding is its evocation of daily life in hideous circumstances, and the survival of human decency in an utterly indecent situation. This unlikely hero, burdened by fear for himself, his family and his pupils, fighting against the urge to feel that “all his life’s work was just so much destroyed hope and goodness befouled”, finds in himself strength and courage he never knew he had. It is an unusual adjective for a crime novel, but I’d call this one inspiring. — Literary Review

A beautifully written story. I have walked the streets of Bethlehem with Omar Yussef, smelled the dust and the fear, tasted his food, shared his anger and his hope. His decency is a light in the gloom. I shall not forget him. — Anne Perry, author of Dark Assassin.

The Collaborator of Bethlehem is the best — and the rarest — sort of mystery: exciting and compelling, but it is also a deeply moving story that will, for many readers, shed much needed light on conditions in the Palestinian territories. Matt Beynon Rees’s ability to blend the political and emotional is reminiscent of Graham Greene. — David Liss, author of The Ethical Assassin.