The Samaritan's Secret
by Matt Beynon Rees
Review by Mel Jacob
Soho Crime Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781569475454
Date: 01 February 2009 List Price $24.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Matt Ress' third Omar Yussef mystery novel, The Samaritan's Secret, takes place in Nablus. He conveys the complex politics of the Palestinians and gritty life in the city among warring factions. The mystery, as complex and convoluted as the Nablus casbah, puts aging schoolteacher Omar Yussef in the midst of Hamas and Fatah fighting to control the city. He seeks to uncover the murderer of a young Samaritan, once a financial expert for Arafat and keeper of his secret accounts, but becomes a target for others.
He finds something strangely familiar about the victim, but cannot pinpoint what. To complicate matters, the World Bank threatens to cut off all funding to the Palestinians unless some three hundred million dollars is located and turned over to the Palestinian Authority.
In Nablus to attend the wedding of a young policeman, Sami Jaffari, Omar Yussef endured a long taxi ride from Bethlehem with his family. Their passes from the Israelis permit them to stay one day after the wedding, one week hence on the same day the World Bank may cut off funding. Other murders confuse the situation.
His allies, Sami and Khamis Zeydan, the police chief of Bethlehem, both discourage him from pursuing the case. Thugs attack and beat him and Sami. The policeman ends with a broken arm. Despite fearing for his life, Omar Yussef persists in his search for the killer.
The victim belonged to the Samaritans, a tiny clannish community. At first, they withhold information. Omar Yussef meets the adoptive father and wife of the victim. When he questions people, he finds himself mired in a quagmire of evasions, lies, deceit, and corruption yet somehow he ferrets out the truth. At times, those questioned appear almost too willing to answer his questions.
Several missteps and wrong assumptions mislead Omar Yussef. Despite identifying the major perpetrator, he realizes others must have been involved, but never identifies them.
The Jerusalem bureau chief for Time magazine, Rees has experienced first hand much he describes. He depicts family life and ties within the Palestinian factions. Religion influences motives as much as politics.
Some readers will find the novels depressing even through Omar Yussef solves his cases and achieves some sort of justice. Use of honorifics and naming conventions may confuse others. Overall, Ress does an admirable job depicting Palestinian life and explaining the forces that influence daily life.
Rees' debut novel, The Collaborator of Bethlehem, won the John Creasey (First Blood) Dagger award. His second, A Grave in Gaza, continued Omar Yussef's cases. High praise from major reviewers ensures others will follow.