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Collaborator of Bethlehem Hardcover – February 1, 2007


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This powerful first novel from British journalist Rees humanizes the struggle of the West Bank, where Omar Yussef, a modest 56-year-old schoolteacher in the Dehaisha Palestinian refugee camp, becomes an unlikely detective amid the uncertainties and violence of modern Bethlehem. Israeli gunfire peppers the area, the Muslims mistrust the minority Christian population, and the Martyrs Brigade instills terror in virtually every group. Yussef once taught in a Christian school and developed strong bonds with several of his students, among them George Saba, now a restorer of antiques. When Israeli snipers kill a member of the Palestinian resistance, the authorities accuse Saba of collaborating and throw him in jail for the crime. Yussef finds evidence that Hussein Tamari, the leader of the Martyrs Brigade, orchestrated the situation, but even the police chief, an old friend, seems unwilling to help Yussef save Saba. The characters and the setting are so richly textured and the politicized events so wrenching that the mystery story becomes incidental. Though the story's conclusion offers a gratifying payoff, for many readers the real reward will be a more immediate sense of a distant and bewildering conflict. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Omar Yussef is a schoolteacher in Bethlehem, struggling to teach history unfettered by politics. When a PLO soldier is murdered, and a Palestinian Christian is arrested for the crime (and accused of being a collaborator with the Israelis), Yussef launches his own investigation, convinced that the accused, a former student, is innocent. Yussef knows he is not a brave man ("What an old fool you are, scrambling about in a battle zone in your nice shoes"), but his determination to stand up for his friend outweighs the futility of his quest, even if it means jeopardizing his family. The premise of this gripping first novel by Time magazine's former Jerusalem bureau chief evokes that sense of mean-streets honor that drives so much crime fiction, but there is no sentimentality lurking beneath Rees' complex, uncompromising tale of a good man trapped in an untenable world. The plot unfolds with a tragic inevitability, but along the way, Rees captures the human spark of daily lives being led in totally polarized, soul-deadening conditions. Ideologically driven absurdity blocks Yussef's way from every direction, but he plods on in his nice shoes, determined to throw "the filth out of his own home with hopelessly insufficient tools." With the recent death of Israeli novelist Batya Gur, there is a very large gap to be filled in the crime fiction of the Middle East, and Rees seems poised to fill it. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Crime (February 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1569474427
  • ISBN-13: 978-1569474426
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,176,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'm an award-winning British crime novelist. Major authors have compared my writing with the work of Graham Greene, John Le Carre, Georges Simenon and Henning Mankell. French magazine L'Express calls me "the Dashiell Hammett of Palestine." Read more about my books, hear my podcasts and see extra features at mattrees.net.

My first book was non-fiction about the Middle East, where I live. When that was done, I was looking for my next project and came up with the idea for Omar Yussef, my Palestinian sleuth, while chatting with my wife in our favorite hotel in Rome. I realized I had become friends with many colorful Palestinians who'd given me insights into the dark side of their society. Like the former Mister Palestine (he dead-lifts 900 pounds), a one-time bodyguard to Yasser Arafat (skilled in torture), and a delightful fellow who was a hitman for Arafat during the 1980s. To tell the true-life stories I'd amassed over a decade, I decided to channel the reporting into a crime series. After all, Palestine's reality is no romance novel.

THE NOVELS: My latest one is MOZART'S LAST ARIA, a historical thriller set in Vienna in 1791. The main character is Wolfgang Mozart's sister Nannerl, who investigates the great composer's death. It's based on my own love for Mozart's music, my fascination with his often-forgotten, talented sister, and my reading of recent historical research which shows that Wolfgang may well have died suspiciously. It's out in the UK in May and in the US in November. I learned piano so I could write about the Maestro's music. For my next book, which is based on the life of Italian artist Caravaggio, I'm learning to paint with oils and duel with a seventeenth-century rapier.

The first novel in The Palestine Quartet, The Collaborator of Bethlehem (UK title The Bethlehem Murders), was published in February 2007 by Soho Press. In the UK it won the prestigious Crime Writers Association John Creasey Dagger in 2008, and was nominated in the US for the Barry First Novel Award, the Macavity First Mystery Award, and the Quill Best Mystery Award. In France it's been shortlisted for the Prix des Lecteurs. New York Times reviewer Marilyn Stasio called it "an astonishing first novel." It was named one of the Top 10 Mysteries of the Year by Booklist and, in the UK Sir David Hare made it his Book of the Year in The Guardian.

Colin Dexter, author of the Inspector Morse novels, called Omar Yussef "a splendid creation." Omar was called "Philip Marlowe fed on hummus" by one reviewer and "Yasser Arafat meets Miss Marple" by another.

The second book in the series, A Grave in Gaza, appeared in February 2008 (and at the same time under the title The Saladin Murders in the UK). The Bookseller calls it "a cracking, atmospheric read." I put in elements of the plot relating to British military cemeteries in Gaza in homage to my two great uncles, who rode through there with the Imperial Camel Corps in 1917. One of them, Uncle Dai Beynon, was still around when I was a boy, and I was named after him.

The third book in the series, The Samaritan's Secret, was published in February 2009. The New York Times said it was "provocative" and it had great reviews in places I'd not have expected - The Sowetan, the newspaper of that S. African township, for example.

THE FOURTH ASSASSIN, the fourth novel in The Palestine Quartet, was published in February 2010. In it, Omar visits the famous Palestinian town of Brooklyn, New York (there really is a growing community there in Bay Ridge), and finds a dead body in his son's bed...

AROUND THE WORLD: My books have to leading publishers in 24 countries: the U.S., France, Italy, Britain, Poland, Spain, Germany, Holland, Israel, Portugal, Brazil, Norway, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Romania, Sweden, Iceland, Chile, Venezuela, Japan, Indonesia, Greece, Turkey, and South Korea.

Customer Reviews

I reccomend this book and will look forward to reading and reviewing the other books in the series.
Faisal Hasan
This is a very intelligent book, clearly demonstrating Rees' understanding of the Middle East and the complexities the Palestinian/Israeli relationship.
Blue in Washington
For the first time in a long while, I was unable to leave the book until I had finished the final pages.
N. Ayal

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on July 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I've been waiting for years for the crime genre to enter the Arab world -- other than a handful by Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra, there's nothing out there (at least in English translation). So, it was with great anticipation I picked up Welsh journalist Rees' Bethlehem-set book starring middle-aged schoolteacher Omar Yussef. Fortunately, despite prose that gets a little too florid at times, and a rather clunky "mystery", the book largely succeeds in bringing the detective genre to a new setting. (A note of warning: those who do not want to face the reality of how the Israeli occupation of the West Bank negatively affects daily life will probably not want to read this. Similarly, those who do not want to face the reality of Palestinian factionalism, pervasive corruption, and intercinine bloodshed, will find this a trying read. All of these elements come to the fore and are critical to the plot, as Rees attempts to ground his story in the daily struggle of non-combatant Palestinians to live a normal life.)

The story begins with the betrayal of a Palestinian guerilla to an Israeli hit squad by an unseen Palestinian collaborator. At his funeral, his widow reveals a rather significant clue as to the identity of the titular collaborator to her former schoolteacher, Yussef. However, she soon turns up dead before her evidence can be reported to anyone. Meanwhile, another former student, a Christian who emigrated to Chile and recently returned, is accused of being the collaborator.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Scheer on July 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Though I'm not much for crime fiction, I'm a reader of books about the Middle East, and this mystery set in Bethlehem on the West Bank caught my eye. At first I didn't think I'd like it, but I was quickly drawn into the twists and turns of plot, a few of them shocking, and felt I'd been immersed in Arab-Israeli political tensions in a way I'd never been before. Welsh-born author Rees, a journalist with Time magazine in Jerusalem, chooses as his central character an Arab history teacher at a UN-run girls school for refugees. A man with a comb-over and a mid-life crisis - and unqualified as a detective - he attempts to uncover the identity of an informer responsible for the killing of a young resistance fighter, which has led to the false arrest of a close friend.

For me, the final solving of this mystery was not so interesting as the portrayal of daily life in a world where the rule of law has been subverted by armed insurgents and an embrace of martyrdom, all set against the presence of an occupying army with considerably superior fire power. Occasions to kill or be killed multiply in this environment, whether as the victim of revenge, dishonor, mob violence, suicide bombing, or cross-fire between combatants. Framing all this within the conventions of the detective story makes this novel something close to creative nonfiction. Meanwhile, as the sole voice of reason and decency crying in this wilderness, the detective Omar Yussef becomes someone you admire for his courage - though it may seem foolish at times. I hope Rees' book is the first of a series; I look forward to reading more.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Blue in Washington TOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The Collaborator of Bethlehem" is an astounding book in many ways. Above all, it's an insightful look at what happens to a society that has lost control of its daily life--when violent force becomes stronger than reason and order. Most people in this kind of situation hunker down and try to make themselves invisible until things get better. A few see opportunities in crisis to gain at the expense of others. Only a few refuse to surrender their humanity and morals and shun collaboration with disorder. Matt Beynon Rees' protagonist, Omar Yussef, is one of the rare breed in the third category. He is the anti-collaborationist, who lives in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, where collaboration is seen by the population as a means of survival. For some it's collaboration with the Israelis to control Palestinian militants, for most others it's a collaboration of silence that allows corruption and violence to flourish in the name of Palestinian autonomy.

Omar Yussef, a free-thinking Palestinian school teacher abhors all that has happened to his very oppressed people, but refuses to give up on hope for the future, and surprisingly, refuses to blame the Israelis for all Palestinian problems. Through his protagonist, the author also expounds convincingly on how the Israelis have condemned themselves to an unending conflict with their neighbors by continuously working to destabilize Palestinian community and family life which inevitably produces more violence directed against the Israelis themselves.

On top of everything else, "The Collaborator of Bethlehem" is a genuinely good police mystery that holds the reader's attention from page one.
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