Spuddie's Reviews > The Collaborator of Bethlehem: An Omar Yussef Mystery

The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Rees
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's review
Sep 01, 2009

really liked it
Read in July, 2009

#1 Omar Yussef mystery set in Bethlehem, Israel. Omar Yussef is a fifty-six-year-old history teacher, an alcoholic who's been dry for ten years. Obviously not a devout Muslim, he does the best he can in an ever-changing, violent world to teach his students right from wrong and respect for all. When one of his former students, George Saba, is accused of being a collaborator with the Israelites and murdering one of the local heros, Omar takes a leave of absence from his school and sets out to investigate so he can prove his friend's innocence. Of course, he's been living too long with his head in an idealistic cloud, and in reality, those in power need a scapegoat and since they hold all the cards, they thwart Omar Yussef's efforts at every turn. After awhile, he isn't even sure that people he's considered close friends and confidantes (including the head of the police in Bethlehem) for many years aren't pulling strings against him. Does he take the easy way out and go with the flow to keep his family safe, or does he soldier on in the name of what he believes is right? Probably not a dilemma many of us can identify with on a very real and visceral level.

Despite being in a setting that is brand new to me, with lots of interesting cultural details, one thing the book shows is that humans are human wherever you go--and motives for murder like power and greed cross national, religious and cultural borders. Very interesting first entry in series. It's difficult to read about an area of the world that has existed as a war-torn scrap of land for so very long, but I am always glad to learn about new areas and cultures. I did figure the mystery out ahead of time, but it was just a good guess or my gut feeling--I felt like I was on shaky ground being so unfamiliar with the culture and missed a lot of clues, I think, and sometimes had to stop to rearrange my thoughts. I liked Omar despite his sometimes petty vanity and stubbornness and I look forward to getting to know him better.

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