Monday, January 07, 2008

The Collaborator of Bethlehem, Part II

Yes, he does make mistakes and unwarranted assumptions born of overconfidence, as a good amateur detective should.

He is Omar Yussef, the schoolteacher protagonist of The Collaborator of Bethlehem (a.k.a. The Bethlehem Murders) by Matt Beynon Rees (a.k.a. Matt Rees). Or perhaps the line between amateur and professional is meaningless in an infernal world such as Yussef's, where the distinctions between law, terror, honor, corruption and revenge have just about evaporated. To avoid plot spoilers, I won't discuss his mistakes – or his right guesses, for that matter – except to say that even the wildest among them is, sadly, plausible.

Yussef is a Muslim; the friend and former pupil whose life he fights to save is a Christian. Hamas and Fatah are both mentioned, but clan alliances and rivalries and good, old-fashioned greed figure far more prominently. Israeli tanks make one fearsome appearance, but the Palestinians of this Bethlehem do too good a job destroying themselves to need much help from anyone else.

Yussef, the good guy, wins in a sense – Soho Press is about to publish the second novel in the series, so I'm giving away nothing if I say that Yussef does not die. But his triumph is partial. Still, its particular nature (again, I'll give no spoilers) adds to the attraction of this good, flawed, dogged and enormously appealing protagonist.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Blogger Linkmeister said...

According to Wikiquote this line is attributed to Abba Eban:

"the 'Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.'"

I admit that often seems true, but I'd say they've suffered from poor leadership since 1948, and it's not been leadership they picked for themselves (until Hamas).

From what I can tell, though, their internecine battles are fearsome. Any novel which successfully navigates through that must be good.

January 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's worth reading and far more topical than most crime novels. Even some of its subsidiary touches resonate. One of the Palestinian police officers has, to put it mildly, a checkered past. (Geez, perhaps that cliché is inappropriate in this case. I intend no allusion to the pattern on a kaffiyeh.) One might argue that Rees slides too lightly over that past.

But then one need only recall that the first police forces in the U.S. were recruited, I have read, in part from among criminals. And this makes sense. Who knows the ways of criminals better than criminals? Palestinians, one is reminded, are struggling to develop a civil society, something we take so for granted that most of us could probably not define it.

For what it's worth, the most fearsome presence in the book is not Israeli soldiers or Hamas or Fatah, but rather a group called the Martyrs' Brigade. This is worth remembering, especially after one has finished reading the novel.

January 08, 2008  

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