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The Collaborator of Bethlehem (Omar Yussef Mystery #1)

3.75  ·  Rating Details  ·  880 Ratings  ·  169 Reviews

"Matt Beynon Rees has taken a complex world of culture clash and suspicion and placed upon it humanity." -David Baldacci, author of The Camel Club

"A beautifully written story. I have walked the streets of Bethlehem with Omar Yussef, smelled the dust and the fear, tasted his food, shared his anger and his hope. His decency is a light in the gloom. I shall not forget him."

Paperback, 272 pages
Published January 9th 2008 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2006)
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Apr 25, 2012 Ron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a reader of books about the Middle East, and this mystery set in Bethlehem on the West Bank caught my eye. At first I didn't think I'd like it, but I was quickly drawn into the twists and turns of plot, a few of them shocking, and felt I'd been immersed in Arab-Israeli political tensions in a way I'd never been before. Welsh-born author Rees, a journalist with Time magazine in Jerusalem, chooses as his central character an Arab history teacher at a UN-run girls school for refugees. A man wit ...more
Feb 28, 2009 Trish rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mysteries, mideast
Omar Yussef, a crusty grandfather, refuses to mind his own business. Friends run into trouble in Dehaisha, a refugee camp on the outskirts of Bethlehem, and he looks into the void.

This book is overwhelming in its pathos, and terrifying in its implications. This old schoolmaster, Omar Yussef, almost goes out of his way to avoid finding evidence of murder in Dehaisha, perpetrated, he believes, by a leader of the resistance. Instead he finds clues just lying about, ignored by the very people meant
Steven Z.
May 23, 2013 Steven Z. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a voracious reader of mysteries that have a contemporary political bent I always look forward to title suggestions from others. Last week a friend introduced me to Matt Benyon Rees and his protagonist, Omar Yussef. After reading THE COLLABORATOR OF BETHLEHEM the first of four “Yussef” books, I am sold. Jo Nesbo, Henning Mankell and others of their ilk have nothing on Mr. Rees who has created an evocative character that allows the reader to enter the byzantine politics of the Palestinian movem ...more
Elsie Klumpner
Sep 05, 2015 Elsie Klumpner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, fiction
I expected to enjoy this book and it did not disappoint. I haven't read any fiction set in occupied Palestine and I was hoping to get a sense of what life is like under the occupation. The author paints a very grim picture. Not only do the Christians and Muslims live in fear of the Israelis' attacks, but they are also at war with each other, living lives full of distrust, violence and inhumanity. There doesn't seem to be any solution.

The mystery is well written and intriguing, with lots of susp
Ram Kaushik
Apr 22, 2016 Ram Kaushik rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The occupied Palestinian territories (or Israeli territories, depending on your viewpoint) forms a fascinating backdrop to this mystery. The author is a Middle East expert, so offers a nuanced view of life in the West Bank. The book explores the authorities' siege/victim mentality beautifully. The lines between violent thug, terrorist and "martyr for the cause" are incredibly blurry in this novel. Worth a read. Oh, and the mystery is somewhat mundane - but who cares about that?
Jun 24, 2015 Carol rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Provides Insight

I bought this book following a trip to Israel. I often learn a lot about places I travel to as well as enjoy the story from reading fiction and mysteries set there. This book was excellent at slowly revealing the intricate motives and prejudices of different factions in Bethlehem. Americans can't really understand the depth of hatred and desire for revenge and hardly realize the true players, which are far more numerous than just Arabs vs Jews. This story revealed a lot of that f
Valerie Penny
Apr 25, 2014 Valerie Penny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Matt Rees is a Welsh novelist and journalist. This is the first of his books I have read, although he is the author of The Palestine Quartet, a series of crime novels about Omar Yussef a Palestinian sleuth. He is the winner of a Crime Writer’s Association Dagger for his crime fiction. This part of the world has always fascinated me but Rees’s novels approach the Middle East conflict from an often unexpected direction. There are almost no Israeli characters, and the novels maintain a focus on Pal ...more
Aug 03, 2008 Marieke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Marieke by: random find in a bookstore.
i don't like reviewing books and plenty of other people reviewed it. i'll just say: i liked it and i'll definitely read the series. i was impressed with how the author handled the complexities of palestinian history and life as an occupied people...i'm wondering what palestinians would make of it but so far i've only seen reviews by non-palestinians.

i thought the following quotes really exemplify what i consider the author's incisiveness:

the problem of religion:

"Omar Yussef looked up into the be
Feb 03, 2012 Jon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very illuminating first novel by the former Jerusalem bureau chief of Time magazine. He draws a very grim, gritty, and realistic picture of life among the Palestinians in Bethlehem, with clan rivalries, corrupt police, fanatical martyr brigades, and normal families trying to survive in the chaos of a power vacuum. A lowly schoolteacher tries to free a man he knows to be innocent while simultaneously finding the person who must be guilty. He hopes the size and strength of his own clan will keep ...more
Meredith Galman
Fascinating, even heart-breaking, background of day-to-day life in Palestinian Bethlehem, where increased Muslim nationalism and militarism have driven the Christians into a despised underground minority, thugs and soldiers fighting it out in the streets is a daily occurrence, and the people who are supposed to protect you are just as scary as those they're protecting you from. Unfortunately, author Rees writes in such a dull, affectless style it's difficult to empathize with the characters and ...more
The Collaborator of Bethlehem is fascinating. It works better as an authentic description of life as a Palestinian in Bethlehem, and the significance of rule of law to every day existence, than it does as a mystery, but it works fine as a mystery, at least for the initial 80%. That's the point where I wanted to grab Omar by the shoulders and say, "stop!" in the same way that you scream at the TV or movie screen at your protagonist not to head into a certain building because the score and fact t ...more
Nitya Sivasubramanian
This was an incredibly hard book for me to read, simply because it captures so accurately the heartache of having no answers to questions of ethics and morality in a war zone with no good guys and bad guys, just guys with guns.

Honestly, in a fun little twist to the genre, I found the murder mystery itself paled in comparison to the interest generated by the investigator himself. In fact, I would venture to say that any other character would have left me so bored I wouldn't have even bothered fin
Judi Moore
Feb 17, 2016 Judi Moore rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love to learn Stuff when I read fiction. As anyone who knows me can testify, I know a little bit about a lot of things. I have no patience with stories that incorporate material which is out of place, fudged or wrong. Good fiction depends on a skeleton of good facts. This novel comes across from the get-go as being by an author who knows what he’s writing about. He says, on his Amazon page: “The aim of my fiction is to take real stories I covered as a journalist and to weave them together to m ...more
Mar 18, 2014 Dana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoy the Passport to Mystery series from Soho Crime. They publish mystery novels which are set all over the world. I felt like journeying to the lands of the Bible and picked up a copy of “The Collaborator of Bethlehem”, set in the modern day city of the traditional birthplace of Jesus. While marketed as a mystery, it is more an evocation of a place and time in which law has no place and killing is seemingly done on a whim.
The book introduces Omar Yussef, a Palestinian school teacher w
P.J. Coldren
Sep 01, 2014 P.J. Coldren rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the Middle East, people who like dark fiction
Wonderful writing. Awful to read, because of content and tone - this is SO not a world I want to live in. Still I kept reading because Mr. Rees sucked me into this unpleasant and very scary world, and made me care about some of the people in it. Will I read this again? Probably not. Will I read something else by this writer? Almost certainly.
Leira Murillo
Feb 07, 2016 Leira Murillo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Keeps you wondering and sobbing...

Every time I stop reading and do something else... Omar Yussef keeps jumping inside my mind, how will he do this and that? What will happen next? Will George Saba die? Will all those risks make a change? The structure of where the thrill stands is strong however the characterization of Omar somehow seems superficial (or maybe I'm that cynical). Defending someone requires love and strength, intellectually and physically, Omar won't have a problem with the former
Nov 07, 2014 Kaija rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really wanted to like this book. Sadly, that didn't work out so well.

I do enjoy books set in the Middle East, and this was my first time reading a murder mystery set there. So, I was hoping for the best.
Unfortunately, I found the plot to be very predictable, and to me, that made a big difference. The setting was ok, and I feel like the characters would grow as the series developed. However, I don't really want to keep reading to really get to know them.
Unless someone hands me another one of
A well written, hard hitting, crime novel in a fascinating setting and against a politically very interesting background. I look forward to the next books in the series.
Apr 24, 2014 Jeanne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Many years ago I visited Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity. How sad I was to revisit that locale is this book and read about the turmoil and chaos that exists there now.

Omar Yussef is a schoolteacher on the verge of retirement who decides to get involved in the death of a young man. He will be a detective and solve the mystery of this man's murder. As difficult as it may be to solve any murder, it is much harder when the world around you is filled with collaborators & terrorists and
The author is a former Jerusalem bureau chief for Time magazine, and he writes with a journalist's eye to the "back story." There is no way to separate the politics of the Middle East from the crime/mystery of the book as the politics are really the driving force. The one paragraph disclaimer at the beginning of the book says "All the crimes in this book are based on real events in Bethlehem. Though identities and some circumstances have been changed, the killers really killed this way, and thos ...more
First if all I sometimes feel bad about the lack of stars that I give to books. Three stars I like the book a Lot! Four stars I Loved it. Five stars it is my all time favorite! So I liked the book a lot and was enthralled with the setting. The world Omar Yussef lives in is cruel and horrific. I felt anxiety for this man and wanted him to mind his own business instead of acting on his moral compass which places him and his family in danger again and again. I look forward to reading more by this t ...more
Cathy Cole
Sep 08, 2015 Cathy Cole rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rees has created a story with a superb sense of time and place, and he does so by showing the humanity of all sides. The monsters aren't all Palestinian. Or Israeli. The mistakes being made aren't all being made by Palestinians or Israelis. And there are good people on every side. This is a story to experience. A story for the mind and for the emotions.

One of the good people is Omar Yussef, who feels that he may be coming to the end of his usefulness. He can't seem to stop being angry at the chi
Oct 07, 2014 Alex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting to read a mystery taking place in present day Palestinian Territories. I gained a better appreciation of living in this war torn area and trying to live a regular life. The book deals more with the effect of Palestinian factions than the Israeli conflict. Sometimes our worst enemies are those next door. And sometimes it is difficult to keep a moral compass, especially when it could mean our own life or that of our families. The author had been the Jerusalem bureau chief for Time maga ...more
L Taylor
Jul 11, 2010 L Taylor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 27, 2011 Kristel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Few detective novels have managed to elicit a profoundly emotional response from me the way The Collaborator of Bethlehem had. For his debut novel, Matt Beynon Rees plumbs the depths of his experience as Time Magazine's former Israel bureau chief to create a compelling mystery set within the context of an extremely polarizing Israel/Palestine conflict. This unflinching but compassionate portrait of life in the West Bank gives readers who are only familiar with the region through pithy CNN headli ...more
Oct 24, 2008 Susan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I first heard of this book from an NPR series on writers who set mysteries in particular cities. I liked the idea of a mystery series set on the West Bank. The author is a Welshman who’s been a journalist in the Middle East. This is the first novel in what’s meant to be a series.
I both liked and didn’t like this one. It was a slow read and it was often hard to tell where the story was going. On the other hand, the outcome was not in the least predictable and the author’s version of life in the P
Jul 27, 2013 Merrikay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Rob Kitchin
Aug 11, 2012 Rob Kitchin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As first novels go, they won’t come much better than this for a reader like me who likes a
mix of a strong plot, good characterization and memorable characters, informative contextual history, good pacing, a balanced blend of action and dialogue which lacks overly thick description, and a story that stimulates my interest in a place and issue and stays with me long after I finish reading it. Most of what I know about the daily lives of Palestinians is gleamed from television news. Beynon Rees ope
Jul 30, 2010 Ensiform rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, mystery
Omar Yussef, a history teacher at the UN school in Bethlehem, is nearing retirement age. When one of his former students, George, a Christian, is arrested for being a collaborator with the Israelis, and another student's husband is killed, he takes a leave of absence to investigate. Finding overwhelming evidence that the Martyrs' Brigade – a gang of cowardly hoods – actually did the killing, he fights to save George despite the overwhelming atmosphere of violence and vengeance that pervades Beth ...more
Sep 03, 2011 Patricia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
This one came hurtling out of left field and blew me away. It’s a straightforward read packed with considerable insights on Palestinian culture written in a fluid, stylish prose. I was dead set on judging it as a Mideast version of the Patterson rubbish abandoned in booksales but mercifully proved to be more than just your run-off-the-mill genre fiction. The character of Omar Yussef is credible. I appreciated his commitment to educate the youth, his integrity, his passionate efforts to save an i ...more
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I'm an award-winning writer of international thrillers, mysteries, and historical fiction. My latest is THE DAMASCUS THREAT, the first in a series of thrillers about US ICE agent Dominic Verrazzano. This one is set in New York and Syria. My mysteries about Palestinian sleuth Omar Yussef won prizes in the UK, the US and France, including the UK Crime Writers Association New Blood Dagger. I've writt ...more
More about Matt Rees...

Other Books in the Series

Omar Yussef Mystery (4 books)
  • A Grave in Gaza (Omar Yussef Mystery #2)
  • The Samaritan's Secret (Omar Yussef Mystery #3)
  • The Fourth Assassin (Omar Yussef Mystery #4)

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