Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

Review: The Saladin Murders

    By Matt Rees
    Atlantic, £11.99

    Morse, Rebus... and now Yussef,” raved The Observer in its assessment of Matt Rees’s first foray into fiction, The Bethlehem Murders (now available as a £6.99 paperback). I can’t say I agreed with The Observer then, but on the basis of his second novel, The Saladin Murders, Rees’s hero, Omar Yussef, is becoming more and more likeable — even if no better as a detective.

    Rees, former Jerusalem bureau chief of Time magazine, can fairly claim to know the Israeli-Palestinian conflict extremely well, from both sides. In Yussef, he has created an unlikely protagonist, a history teacher in a United Nations school in Bethlehem.

    Rees loads the dice against Omar Yussef: he’s in his 50s, short, balding, and once upon a time he was a drunk. But he is also, we learn, a uxorious and extremely affectionate family man, who adores his fond but scolding wife and his favourite grandchild, and genuinely loves the children whom he teaches.

    Most of all, Omar Yussef is the kind of Palestinian whom Israelis would be thrilled to believe form the majority of the Palestinian population — a peace-loving, pragmatic man, who won’t buy into the myths created by the Palestinian population about itself and who, while resenting the occupation, still refuses to demonise the occupiers.

    In The Saladin Murders, Yussef, though still no Sherlock Holmes, is driven by a kind of dogged decency in his attempt to investigate the truth about a fellow teacher who has been accused of links with the CIA.

    Rees is excellent on the whispering culture of the Palestinian street — which tries, condemns, and then executes a man before any doubts can be raised. He is also rather good on that most difficult of problems for a thriller writer: how omnipotent or heroic to make his central character.

    The sad but realistic truth about the Palestinian territories is that the body count is extremely high, and if it is not actual killing, then it is maiming and torture. Accordingly, Omar Yussef is fairly unsuccessful in saving many of his friends and colleagues from rather horrible fates — but this mirrors the depressing reality of daily Palestinian life.

    Intriguingly, the Israelis are a largely unseen presence in the books, which perhaps is a relief. Rees thus avoids making Omar Yussef into an Uncle Tom. Instead, we get — a real rarity in English-language fiction — a fascinating insight into Palestinian life, its plots, conspiracies, and near relentless misery. In fact, both of Rees’s books will give anyone who is interested in the conflict a different view. I highly recommend The Saladin Murders.

The Jewish Chronicle

Review: Reunion

Amanda Hopkinson

Friday, November 25, 2016

Review: Reunion
Books

A taste for forbidden flavours

Michael Kaminer

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A taste for forbidden flavours
The Jewish Chronicle

Jodi Picoult competition entry form

Keren David

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Jodi Picoult competition entry form
The Jewish Chronicle

Review: Freud: In His Time and Ours

Stephen Frosh

Friday, November 25, 2016

Review: Freud: In His Time and Ours
Books

Jodi Picoult - The book that changed me

Keren David

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Jodi Picoult - The book that changed me
Books

Review: Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East b...

Robert Philpot

Friday, November 11, 2016

Review: Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East b...
Books

Can you solve these knotty problems?

Daniel Sugarman

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Can you solve these knotty problems?
Books

Getting ahead is a slice of pie

Suzanne Levy

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Getting ahead is a slice of pie
The Jewish Chronicle

Review: A Horse Walks Into A Bar

Stoddard Martin

Friday, November 11, 2016

Review: A Horse Walks Into A Bar