This is the third novel in Matt Rees’ quartet of novels set in Palestine. I have already read and enjoyed the first one – The Bethlehem Murders, so I was looking forward to this one. I had an additional reason for choosing this novel, as it is set in Nablus and I deliberately delayed my reading until I had come back from my visit to that city. On all levels this is a very good book. It works as a crime novel and it gives a pretty realistic and accurate impression of living in Nablus.
As with the previous novels in the series, the hero of the tale is Omar Yussef, the elderly teacher from Bethlehem who is by chance in Nablus for the wedding of a young friend of his, Sami Jaffari, who is a police officer in Nablus. Omar Yussef is not long in Nablus before he becomes involved in solving a murder. In this case the murder victim is a young Samaritan, which makes the case already rather sensitive. It quickly becomes even more sensitive when Omar discovers that the young Samaritan was also a financial adviser to the late Yasser Arafat and some 300 million dollars of aid money has gone missing. Things become even more complicated after this discovery as Omar and Sami become embroiled in a complex web of intrigue involving the World Bank and the violent rivalry between Fatah and Hamas for political control in Nablus. So this is not your ordinary crime novel.
Matt Rees, who worked for many years as a journalist in the Middle East has a good knowledge of the many complexities surrounding Palestinian society. As in the first novel, the Israelis do not feature as individuals in the story. The novel concentrates on Palestinians and how they react to and with each other. The Israeli occupation does feature in the novel as the action takes place during the Second Intifada so there are constant references to the violence, deaths and restrictions that go with the occupation. But it is always in the background. Omar Yussef is a wonderful and well rounded creation. The other characters are also all well crafted and interesting in their own right.
Matt Rees does a very good job of describing Nablus – its sights, smells, sounds and noises. Many of the places mentioned in the novel were instantly recognizable to me, as was the atmosphere of living in such a busy and crowded city. This is a very good crime novel and has the added attraction of introducing the reader to Nablus and providing an insight into life under occupation.