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The Collaborator of Bethlehem / The…

The Collaborator of Bethlehem / The Bethlehem Murders

by Matt Rees

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"The Collaborator of Bethlehem" presents us with an unlikely detective, Omar Yussef. Actually, he's not a detective at all, but a grandfather and a schoolteacher in a UN school in the Palestinian territories. He can be short-tempered and impulsive in the conclusions he draws. He can be cranky, and those he is beloved by some, is considered with suspicion and contempt by others.

Setting a mystery in the complex political context of Palestine adds a lot of flavor to the story. I have spent time myself in the so-called "Christian Triangle" where this novel is set (comprised of the three municipalities of Bethlehem, Beit Jala, and Beit Sahour), and I could envision all the scenes of the story. All seemed quite plausible and real.

One reservation: I suppose it's difficult to enter any discussion of the Palestinian situation without entering into some kind of political debate--even if what we're talking about is only a murder mystery. But in Matt Rees' allusions to the status of Palestinian Christians, he seems to leave the impression that the decimation of the Christian population in the Holy Land is largely due to hostile Christian-Muslim relations. Unquestionably, those relations have deteriorated over the years. But in my time in Bethlehem and environs, all my interactions were with Christians, and to a person they all told me that the prime reason for the Christian exodus from their ancient homeland was the difficulties posed by the Israeli occupation. Indeed, they perceived many of the tensions that existed between Christians and Muslims were stoked by Israelis, who saw the advantages in dividing the Palestinian community.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the book and was eager to follow its twists. It conveyed the truth that living in the Occupied Territories today, it is hard to know from day to day whom to trust or believe. ( )
  kvrfan | Apr 25, 2015 |
This book by Rees was excellent and more than just a mystery. Yes, there is a murder and a man is wrongly accused, but the real story is about the Palestinians of the West Bank, their ties to their lost homes, the young militants, the thugs who are looking for power any way they can get it, and the relationships, tribal and otherwise, between the various factions.

Omar Yussef is a middle-aged school teacher at a UN school for refugee children. When a close friend and former pupil is accused of collaborating with the Israelis and arrested he sets out to discover what really happened. This brings him into conflict with a particularly violent group of militants who have been terrorizing the residents of Bethlehem. Though friends and family tell him to desist for his own safety, Yussef can't do that and live with himself so his investigation continues leading him to an unexpected result.

Recommended, especially since the author uses his knowledge of the West Bank from his years as a journalist there to make one see the place and the people of his story. Luckily there are more books from Rees about Omar Yussef which I will try to read before too long.
  hailelib | Feb 12, 2014 |
Not being a mystery reader, I am reviewing this as the literary novel it might have been. This had the bones of a well-written book, but not the flesh and blood. It needed a solid rewrite to upgrade the internal monologue, which read like plot notes for a character study, and to fix the dialogue, which read like internal monologue. This book contained some truly beautiful sentences, but their appearances were so rare as to make the rest of the book even more disappointing. The author clearly has the talent to be great, if he could just work on the editing and rewriting process. I am curious to see whether his later books are an improvement. ( )
  read.to.live | Aug 9, 2013 |
After my last read I was looking for something light, and went to my usual, a mystery. Well, light it wasn't, but a good transition perhaps. I just stumbled across this book and grabbed it. [[Matt Rees]] writes out of his experience as a journalist covering the mid-East for over a decade for Time, Newsweek, and The Scotsman. He was born in Wales which I thought brought a unique perspective to his story.

This book has all of the standard ingredients of a good murder mystery, but with some added twists. The location (Bethlehem) includes an occupied Palestinian camp. The interaction, blame, motives, etc., are complicated by the characters from three groups, Palestinian Christians, Muslims, and the Israeli occupiers. I'm American and had to keep stopping and thinking these relationships through and putting the characters in perspective. I finally realized that I was trying to fit the story into my American framework rather than just hearing what the characters were actually experiencing themselves. That was a challenge, and well worth the effort. The main character was very helpful in that because of his personal refusal to hold people in stereotype. He is definitely NOT a black and white thinker but sees many shades of grays and many possibilities. The author has clearly developed an excellent grasp of the complicated relationships between groups living in the mid-East as well as old tribal histories and forms of government. I learned a lot in reading it and will be reading the other three in this series. Highly recommended, with a potential to help the reader understand the mid-East a little more, and perhaps even the reader's own ambiguity in her own relationships. ( )
1 vote mkboylan | Jul 27, 2013 |
Although the setting of this book may be unfamiliar it’s still got most of the elements of a traditional whodunit. There’s a murder, then another one, an amateur detective attempting to clear a friend’s name, a plethora of corrupt or incompetent officials and a gang of thugs (masquerading as freedom fighters but showing remarkable similarities to gangs of thugs the world over). That said though it isn’t the best example of its genre you could find. There aren’t the plot twists, red-herrings and false suspects that usually accompany this kind of story and, regardless of how much I’d like to have a long chat over coffee with him, Omar Yussef isn’t the most successful fictional amateur detective I’ve encountered.

Aside from Yussef, who is a complex character with a myriad of flaws alongside the moral strength and necessary stubbornness that makes him stand up to the bullies around him while others cower, the people are fairly one-dimensional and somewhat stereotypical. But the other main character of this story isn’t a person: it’s the place. Rees’ picture of Palestinian Bethlehem is breathtaking in its depth and the way it humanises something I’ve only seen in news headlines. It feels as if this book has shown me a genuine slice of the lives that are lived despite, or because of, those headlines.

And what lives! They’re full of oppression, poverty, evil, hatred and endless longing for things that are long gone or can never be. There are brief glimmers of hope such as the fact that Yussef and a couple of others are not completely broken and the warm, loving families in abundance but overall the people lurch from one depressing, incident to the next. When Yussef looks at the judge during a farcical trial and observes “…a man’s morality takes a big gulp of air before plunging beneath the surface of the sea of iniquity on which Bethlehem wallows” I felt particularly helpless at the thought of the real-world people on whose lives these fictional ones are based.

Which probably explains why I struggled to finish this book, It required the kind of grim determination I usually reserve for unpleasant but necessary tasks like housework and going to management meetings. In the end I shut myself in a room and finished it: tears streaming down my face all the while as the bodies mounted up, the futility of Yuseff’s activities became more apparent and I realised just how many people in the world have no expectation of happiness or justice or the myriad of other basic things I take for granted.

( )
2 vote bsquaredinoz | Mar 31, 2013 |
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The Collaborator of Bethlehem is the U.S. title; it was published in the U.K. as The Bethlehem Murders.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618959653, Paperback)

The murder of a leader of the Palestinian Martyrs Brigade leads to the arrest of George Saba, a Palestinian Christian accused of collaborating with the Israelis. Omar Yussef, a modest history teacher at a United Nations school in the West Bank, is impelled to investigate the murder to exonerate his former pupil, who he knows is innocent. As he struggles to save George, Omar Yussef is drawn into a complex plot where it is impossible to tell friend from enemy.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:11 -0400)

The Collaborator of Bethlehem is the riveting first novel in a new mystery series set in the heart of the Middle East. The murder of a leader of the Palestinian Martyrs Brigade leads to the arrest of George Saba, a Palestinian Christian accused of collaborating with the Israelis. Omar Yussef, a modest history teacher at a United Nations school in the West Bank, is impelled to investigate the murder to exonerate his former pupil, whom he knows is innocent. As he struggles to save his friend, Omar Yussef is drawn into a tangled plot where it is impossible to tell friend from enemy. Matt Beynon Rees has written a richly detailed, absorbing mystery that illuminates the Palestinian conflict and its political complexities from within.… (more)

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