The Bethlehem Murders: An Omar Yussef Novel: (Omar Yussef Mystery Series 1), 1 Feb 2008, by Matt Rees

I love to learn Stuff when I read fiction. As anyone who knows me can testify, I know a little bit about a lot of things. I have no patience with stories that incorporate material which is out of place, fudged or wrong. Good fiction depends on a skeleton of good facts. This novel comes across from the get-go as being by an author who knows what he’s writing about. He says, on his Amazon page: “The aim of my fiction is to take real stories I covered as a journalist and to weave them together to make a single mystery. It’s thrilling crime fiction, but I believe it also gets much closer to the truth about the Palestinians and the way they live than anything you’ll read in news reports.”

Thus I have been completely absorbed by Matt Rees’s first Omar Yussef crime novel. I didn’t spot the date of publication when I began it: it is set in Yasser Arafat’s world of intifada. Sadly that world is with us once again. To learn about the ongoing conflict in Israel/Palestine – what the people who have to live with it feel about it, why it does not stop, and many other nuances of the conflict, has been fascinating. The murders that the book is about could only happen in this place under these conditions. I had a sleepless night last night because I had to finish it: I had to know – and the end is satisfyingly nail-biting (see here are mine – down to the quick!).

Not only does Matt Rees know his Middle East, he also writes lean, pacy prose; sketches his characters economically but with telling effect; uses dialogue to push the plot along and has plenty, plenty plot. Almost everybody and their auntie is claimed to be ‘the new Le Carre’ these days. Matt Rees might actually be the real deal.

Unreservedly: 5 stars.


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