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Grave in Gaza (Omar Yussef Mysteries) Hardcover – February 1, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

palestinian history teacher Omar Yussef travels from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip, where he becomes immersed in local violence and politics, in this over-the-top sequel to Rees's The Collaborator of Bethlehem (2007). Omar Yussef is a modest figure, quiet and middle-aged. When a U.N. official asks him to speak to a kidnapped schoolteacher's wife, he soon finds himself in the midst of international intrigue, dealing missiles over dinner, shouting down police officers and militants armed with machine guns and rescuing someone from a smuggling tunnel. These incidents seem a bit extreme for an aging academic, though his charm and calm demeanor are almost enough to convince the reader. The zany plot is interesting despite its implausibility, and the richly detailed descriptions, complete with deliberately brutal details of torture and death, emphasize Omar Yussef's peril and the violent tumult of the Middle East.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

MATT BEYNON REES is the former Jerusalem bureau chief for Time. Born in Wales, he is the author of Cain’s Field: Faith, Fratricide, and Fear in the Middle East and The Collaborator of Bethlehem, the first book in the Omar Yussef series. He lives in Jerusalem and maintains a website at
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Omar Yussef Mysteries
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Crime; First Edition edition (February 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1569474729
  • ISBN-13: 978-1569474723
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.2 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,381,433 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

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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on February 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
As someone raised in the Arab world and a fan of the crime genre, I'd long been awaiting something like Rees' first Omar Yussef mystery, last year's The Collaborator of Bethlehem. That debut wasn't flawless, but on the whole, was a very promising start to the Palestine/Israel-set series. Now 50-something former alcoholic Omar Yussef returns for another mystery, this time in Gaza. Employed as a principal and schoolteacher in a U.N. refugee school on the West Bank, the story finds him accompanying his Swedish boss on an inspection tour of U.N. schools in Gaza.

Upon entering Gaza, they are joined by a Scottish U.N. security officer, ex-soldier James Cree. Almost instantly, the trio are plunged into the confusing briar patch of Gaza politics, as they take on the case of a local U.N. schoolteacher who has been arrested by one of the several local police/military/intelligence forces. This also coincides with large meeting of Palestinian bigwigs and power brokers, providing an excuse for Omar Yussef's friend from Bethlehem, Brigadier Khamis Zeydan to be on hand, along with his mysterious local fixer, Sami. Zeydan warns his friend and the U.N. men that everything in Gaza is connected, and if you start tugging at one case, you'll find yourself unraveling all kind of things best left untouched.

Of course they continue in the face of his warning and are soon embroiled in a very complicated power-play between various Gaza factions. The story becomes increasingly ruthless and violent, and as in the previous book, those who do not want to face the reality of Palestinian factionalism, pervasive corruption, and intercinine bloodshed, will find this a trying read. The one main flaw in the book is one I've encountered in other series set in unusual places, and that is overexplaining.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Blue in Washington TOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the early pages of Matt Beynon Rees' new book, "A Grave in Gaza," one its characters observes that in the political and social devastation of today's Gaza territory "there is no single, isolated crime (here). Each one is linked to many others...when you touch one of them, it sets off reverberations that will be felt by powerful people, ruthless people." This is expressed as a friendly warning to the book's protagonist, Omar Yussuf Sirhan (Abu Ramiz), the principled teacher turned-detective, who travels to Gaza from the West Bank on a routine school inspection and finds himself trying to save first an imprisoned Palestinian whistleblower and very quickly after, his friend and kidnapped UN colleague, Magnus Wallender. Driven by personal decency and a sense of moral outrage, Omar Yussuf plunges into a labyrinth of gang warfare and dueling warlords on behalf of his colleagues and almost loses his own liberty and life.
Author Rees deftly uses Omar Yussuf's pursuit of his colleagues' liberation to take a hard look at the pervasive corruption and physical degeneration that characterize life in Gaza for all those trapped in that small territory. Rees enhances his novel with impressive explanations of the history of the area and, more interestingly, with one wonderful character study after another. The author's graphic and continuing description of the ever-present dust storms and what they do the human disposition and the physical landscape, are highly effective and extremely discomforting. As intricate and good as the plot is in this novel, the character studies and descriptions of the place are even better. This is an insightful and wise book that is rich with wonderful writing. Highly recommended.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Stuart M. Wilder on January 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Matt Rees' second Omar Yussef book will not disappoint fans of The Collaborator of Bethlehem, nor anyone interested in learning a little about the small battles Palestinians must fight every day just to survive. As in both his first novel and his earlier non-fiction book about the area, Cain's Field, Rees, thrifty with words, gives us a multi-layered and nuanced view of the world he depicts. Rees' Gaza is controlled by gangsters masquerading as politicians, where few good deeds go unpunished and good people try their best to cope. Unable though trying to bring about much good, Omar Yussef, the book's protagonist, instead pursues truth, and on the way finds that and irony. I do not want to give away the story, but I'll vouch that is a page turner that will please both mystery and Middle East book fans.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on March 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This second in Rees' series featuring the dogged 50-something former alcoholic Omar Yussef finds the Palestinian history teacher accompanying two UN officials - a Swede and a Scot - on a school inspection in Gaza. But they never get to the inspections.

One of their UN teachers, who also teaches at the university, has been arrested for collaboration, a death-penalty charge, with the penalty likely to come before the trial. The teacher's actual crime? He has accused the university of selling degrees to the security services, of which there are several factions.

Rees knows Palestinian politics, corruption, and ruthlessness and soon plunges the reader into this bewildering, hopeless mess of power struggles and intrigue. Though the first murder does not take place for more than 100 pages, the growing tension provides plenty of suspense. Inevitably, the tension explodes. Omar Yussef, acting as translator, go-between and investigator, fed up with Palestinian factionalism and corruption, finds himself at the center of a violent vortex.

Rees, who lives in Jerusalem, paints a portrait of Gaza even more hopeless than the one you might construct from news accounts. From vicious dust storms to righteous thugs, the place teems with misery. But family remains at the core of ordinary life, with food and hospitality providing dignity and comfort.

Deeply atmospheric and politically knowledgeable, Rees' novels are eye-opening page-turners.
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