Friday, March 12, 2010

The Samaritan's Secret

Omar Yussef just can’t help himself. His strong belief that evildoers should pay for their crimes has, much to the delight of his 13-year-old granddaughter, turned this aging Palestinian into a reluctant detective. At 57 years of age, and seemingly in poorer shape than most men that age, our U.N. school teacher often finds it difficult to meet the physical demands of his work as an amateur detective but he refuses to let his frailness stop him. When he happens upon a bad situation he might be able to fix, Omar is willing to do battle against the corrupt politicians and murderers of Palestine, be they Hamas or Fatah, if that is what it takes to right a wrong.

The Samaritan’s Secret, the third book in Matt Beynon Rees’ Omar Yussef series, will not disappoint readers who enjoyed the series’ first two books. This time around, Omar has put aside his job teaching history at a Bethlehem United Nations school long enough to come to Nablus with his wife, sons, and granddaughter for the wedding of a young policeman friend. Nablus is home to a 600-strong Samaritan community sitting atop a mountain overlooking the city. The Samaritans, having been persecuted by the Muslim population in the past, have isolated themselves on the mountain for their own safety and to avoid the perpetual conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis. But now one of the Samaritans has been murdered and Omar, out of curiosity, tags along when his young policeman friend is called in to investigate the crime.

Omar soon learns that the murder victim, Ishaq, was far from being the typical Samaritan. The young man was, in fact, in charge of the personal finances of former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat and was with the old president when he died in Paris. Now, some $300 million dollars is missing and it is believed that Ishaq knew where all the money was hidden. Omar’s questions lead him to an American woman representing the World Bank who came to Nablus to meet with Ishaq about the missing money. She tells Omar that, unless the stolen money is found and returned to the proper bank account by the end of the week, the World Bank will cut off all aid to Palestine. Omar realizes what a catastrophe this would be for the Palestinian people and he is determined to find the missing millions before others can steal the money for themselves.

Rees writes solid detective fiction but the real reason I so much enjoy his books is his ability to immerse me deeply into a world I would otherwise never experience. He portrays the daily chaos and violence of Palestine through the eyes of its commons citizens, people simply trying to get on with their everyday lives in a place where keeping their families safe is a constant challenge. Rees vividly portrays the claustrophobic atmosphere created by unpredictable clashes with the Israelis, internal violence between Fatah and Hamas, corrupt politicians using assassination for personal gain, and the inability to leave the territory for a safer location.

Amidst all the violence, Rees shows how people still manage to fall in love, start families, and get on with life. That is the real beauty of the Omar Yussef series.

Rated at: 4.0

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