Review

The Collaborator of Bethlehem

by Matt Beynon Rees

I
love Soho Crime, an imprint known for publishing mystery and
suspense novels set in exotic locales foreign to most American
readers. Unfortunately, they don't release titles every month, but
their limited schedule does guarantee a commitment to
quality.


So we come to THE COLLABORATOR OF BETHLEHEM by Matt Beynon Rees,
the first in a projected series of novels featuring Omar Yussef, a
grade school history teacher in Bethlehem. Yussef has taught Muslim
and Christian children in Bethlehem for over two decades. A Muslim
himself, Yussef has remained above the violence and strife,
treating his charges without differentiation even as the Christian
minority has slowly disappeared. Yussef's teaching style --- which
encourages his students to turn away from the concepts of violent
martyrdom and the gangster-style leadership of the self-styled
revolutionaries who rule the streets of his city --- has not
endeared him to the Palestinian authorities, who regard him as an
anachronism at best and dangerous at worst.


Yussef immerses himself into new difficulties when George Saba, a
Palestinian Christian and a beloved former student, is charged with
collaborating with the Israelis in the execution of a Palestinian
guerrilla. The accusation against Saba results in his arrest, with
a mock trial and a brutal execution soon to follow. It is almost
immediately evident that Saba is a scapegoat, but the Palestinians
want vengeance and Saba is a warm body.


Yussef feels compelled to investigate, even as he is warned away
from the matter by everyone from the local police chief to his own
son. His de facto investigation puts himself and his
family in terrible danger, but he is nonetheless compelled by his
own innate sense of justice and decency to pursue it, even as it
slowly becomes clear to him that even the truth will ultimately
make no difference in a time and place where lawlessness and
insanity rules.


As the result of his work as a Western journalist in Jerusalem,
Matt Beynon Rees has a canny understanding of the chaotic street
politics that rule the Palestinian territories. Rees brings a
wondrous storytelling ability to this book, providing order to a
complex and confusing tale and rendering it not only comprehensible
but also compelling. He has created in Yussef a marvelous
character, a flawed and damaged man constantly striving to do good
and be better in a world where such efforts are both unappreciated
and regarded as dangerous.


THE COLLABORATOR OF BETHLEHEM is one of those rare debuts that
hints at great potential and then not only delivers but also
exceeds what is promised.


   











Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 28, 2010

The Collaborator of Bethlehem
by Matt Beynon Rees

  • Publication Date: February 1, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Crime
  • ISBN-10: 1569474427
  • ISBN-13: 9781569474426