Atlantic Books, 2006
Reviewed by Helen Lloyd
When a young member of the Palestinian resistance is shot dead near his
home on the outskirts of Bethlehem, George Saba, a Christian, is arrested
as the collaborator who led the Israelis to him. As a member of the
minority Christian community, he is a convenient scapegoat, but Omar
Yussef, his old teacher and friend, is convinced that George has been
With George under threat of imminent execution, Omar takes leave from his
teaching job to carry out his own investigation. His enquiries bring him
up against the Martyrs Brigade, the resistance fighters who effectively
run the town. To Omar, they are no more than a gang of corrupt and violent
thugs. Everyone, including the police and legal system, are powerless
against them, and it seems Omar is the only one interested in the truth.
As he moves closer to discovering that truth, he puts himself and his
family in danger.
THE BETHLEHEM MURDERS is a fascinating book, as much for its insight into
the effect of the ongoing conflict in Palestine on the lives of ordinary
people, as it is for the mystery. Author Matt Rees brilliantly evokes the
atmosphere of a town in the middle of a battle zone, and a people living
with daily violence, fear and uncertainty.
Rees has created a very different and exceptional hero in Omar Yussef. A
middle-aged school teacher with a full set of human foibles, he is a man
of great integrity, who ultimately cares more about the truth than his own
safety. He hates what has happened to his town, and he mourns the time in
the past when Christian and Muslim could live together in harmony.
There are some horrific and brutal scenes, made all the more so by Rees'
note at the beginning of the book which states that all the crimes in the
book were based on real events in Bethlehem. Omar Yussef 's quiet, cynical
humour provides a few lighter moments in an otherwise rather bleak book.
Rees is a wonderful storyteller and this beautifully written book brought
tears to my eyes on more than one occasion. I look forward to reading more
of Omar Yussef's adventures.
This book also goes by the title of THE COLLABORATOR OF BETHLEHEM (USA).
Matt Rees is a journalist who has worked in the Middle East for more than
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