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The Samaritan's Secret (Omar Yussef Mysteries) Hardcover – February 1, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

No crime, whether a theft or murder, is an isolated event in Palestine; it's an intersection of religious, cultural and political issues, as shown in Rees's absorbing third Omar Yussef mystery (after 2008's A Grave in Gaza). Omar Yussef, a 57-year-old history teacher, becomes immersed in finding who killed Ishaq, a member of the tiny, ancient Samaritan community on the outskirts of Nablus. While his fellow Samaritans didn't respect Ishaq, he controlled millions of dollars of government money through his job at the Palestinian Authority—money that's now missing. Unless the funds can be found, the World Bank will cut off all financial aid to Palestine. If the quiet Yussef stretches believability as a sleuth, Rees excels in capturing the essence of Palestine, from the claustrophobic casbah with its myriad scents to the harsh beauty of the countryside. Rees vividly illustrates daily Palestinian life, where violence is a constant threat and religious attitudes permeate each decision. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Rees makes it three for three with his latest Omar Yussef mystery. This time the Bethlehem history teacher is in strife-torn Nablus to attend the wedding of a family friend. Nablus is home to the small Samaritan community, which follows its ancient traditions in the midst of the ongoing violence between Palestinians and Israelis. Yussef, ever the historian, jumps at the chance to visit the Samaritan synagogue and learn more about their beliefs, but he is quickly engulfed in a murder investigation. One of the Samaritans, a young man who worked for Arafat (“the old president”) and controlled millions of the leader’s under-the-table money, has been murdered, and the funds are missing. Yussef throws himself into the daunting task of following the money and thus stopping the World Bank from cutting off aid to Palestine. As in The Collaborator of Bethlehem (2007) and A Grave in Gaza (2008), Rees not only offers a perceptive look at complex international political issues but also help us to understand those issues in the context of everyday lives—of Palestinians attempting to dodge bullets coming in all directions (from Israelis but also from rival factions within their own country) and carry on with the business of falling in love, marrying, raising children. Constantly at risk from all manner of idealists with guns, Yussef soldiers on, his concern for individual human lives standing in stark contrast to the world around him. --Bill Ott

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Product Details

  • Series: Omar Yussef Mysteries
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Crime; First Edition / First Printing edition (February 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1569475458
  • ISBN-13: 978-1569475454
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,203,926 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

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Stuart M. Wilder on January 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you enjoyed Matt Benyon Rees' first two Omar Yussef novels, you want to buy this one. It is another page turner, this time exploring the interplay between Hamas and Fatah in the West Bank town of Nablus as Omar Yussef is driven to solve the murder of the son of the religious leader of the small Samaritan tribe. If you want to learn about Palestine and its people, these novels are as good a place as any to start-- and you get some great detective stories too.

Omar Yussef mysteries give a reader much more than a crime and its solution. They put human faces on Palestinians living in a limbo between occupation and statehood, with their own law enforcement agencies working under the shadow (or, if you prefer, watchful eye) of the Israelis. The stories though are all about the Palestinians. There is not a word of dialog or even a name put to any Israeli, allowing the characters to show the diversity in Palestinians' opinions, outlook and standards of living. Rees is a former Middle East reporter with great powers of observation, and his novels, through the words and descriptions of the characters, give their readers a better education about the problems of Palestine than a month of 90 second reports on cable news about the day to day events there. No one will be offended by anything in these books, and everyone will be informed.

I have heard that Rees' books are to be translated into Hebrew. I hope they are on sale in Israel soon, and that they will also be available in Arabic. These books deserve far more attention than they have received.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Blue in Washington TOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The chronicle of Omar Yussef Sirhan, Palestinian school master cum detective, continues with the well-written "The Samaritan's Secret." Author Matthew Beynon Rees, a British journalist with long experience in the Middle East, has a deep and almost uncanny understanding of Palestine, its people and culture, all of which are well-reflected in this crime novel and the two others in the Omar Yussef series. To his great credit, the evocative descriptions of the West Bank (and Gaza previously) and its people are both "warts and all" and admiring.

"The Samaritan's Secret" takes Omar Yussef and his family to the northern West Bank town of Nablus for the wedding of a young policeman friend and his fiance, Meimoun (introduced in "A Grave in Gaza"). The couple's marriage ceremony coincides with an outbreak of hostilities between Hamas and Fatah militants which provides the dangerous backdrop for the murder mystery that is introduced early in the story.

While Omar Yussef is visiting a shrine of the fast-dwindling Samaritan sect where the theft of sacred religious books has been reported, the body of badly beaten young man is found. The victim turns out to be the adopted son of the chief priest of the Samaritans--a man who is strangely ambivalent about his son's death and the theft of the religious articles.

The murdered man was also a close confidant of the late PLO Chief, Yasser Arafat, and apparently held the secret to the whereabouts of hundreds of millions of international assistance dollars stashed in overseas banks for Arafat's personal use. There is a general belief among the Nablus population that the young victim was also gay and may have had relationships with a number of important figures in the Palestinian state.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By DAVID BRYSON VINE VOICE on June 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Think Chandler when you read this detective novel. One character in the book even prompts us at intervals by telling us that Chandler is who she is reading. This kind of detective story is nothing like Agatha Christie, and not really much more like certain modern practitioners of the genre, say Ian Rankin. Indeed the main focus is not even on the detection element at all. As in the seven Philip Marlowe novels, it is the characters themselves and the background against which they are drawn that are the things that matter more.

There is one respect at least in which you might even think that The Samaritan's Secret compares well with Chandler, and that respect is the clarity of the plot. Chandler did not want his novels to be read or assessed as mere whodunits, and he admitted candidly that he was well into his stories before he even made up his mind who the killer would turn out to be. Myself, I adore Chandler. When I was young I knew the seven novels nearly by heart, and to this day I can't follow the plot of any of them. No such problem with The Samaritan's Secret. The range of possibilities is very restricted (although there are some genuine surprises), and the truth emerges at least as much through candour and loquacity on several people's part as through any `detecting' that Omar Yussef does.

Is it all a bit oversimplified and schematic? I guess it probably is, although I greatly enjoyed it. Matt Rees has long experience as a journalist covering the Middle East, and so can be expected to have more insight into the cultures and ways of thinking in that tortured region than most of us have. The characters are rather two-dimensional, but that may actually be a good thing in a novel of only 300 or so pages.
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