Review: The Saladin Murders by Matt Beynon Rees

Title: The Saladan Murders (a.k.a. A Grave in Gaza in the US) (the 2nd Omar Yuseff mystery)

Author: Matt Beynon Rees (or apparently plain old Matt Rees in the US)

Publisher: Whole Story Audio Books [2008]

ISBN: N/A (digital download via audible.com)

Length: 10 hours, 4 minutes

Omar Yussef, history teacher at a UN school in Bethlehem and somewhat reluctant amateur detective, travels to the Gaza strip to help with a routine school inspection.  As soon as he arrives he learns that one of the teachers at the school has been arrested because he accused the university of selling degrees to army officers so they can gain promotion. Despite being warned off Yussef starts to investigate the teacher’s arrest but soon becomes embroiled in a violent power struggle between competing groups in Gaza who all treat each other and any innocent bystanders unlucky enough to be in the way as little more than pawns.

If bravery is defined as taking action in spite of the fear you feel then Omar Yussef must be the bravest hero of them all. He faces constant danger and death threats and in this book he doesn’t have the benefit of his extensive family connections to offer any protection (Gaza may as well be a million miles from his native Bethlehem). It’s clear that Yussef is afraid of the danger but he feels such a moral obligation to do the right thing that he acts despite his fear. But I don’t want the description of him as extraordinarily brave to make him sound as if he’s somehow unreal because he’s a terrifically believable character: an ageing, slightly vain, former drunk who loves his family, his homeland (whatever that means) and history and who refuses to wallow in all the inertia-inducing rhetoric and mythology about the occupation of Palestine.

As with Rees’ first book the other significant character here is the place. This is a story that could not have been set anywhere other than Palestine which is, once again, depicted in all its stark despair. Vengeances both personal and political, corruption. violence and a seemingly endless obsession with the past abound. Yussef’s moral strength and respect for all life is all the more admirable because he’s surrounded by people who have little of either quality. The casual way in which people are killed throughout the book is breathtaking, especially when you know that Rees has based scenes in the book on the many real events he covered during his years as a journalist in the region.

Often when fiction has a ‘message’ or gets political I feel like I’m being preached at and disengage angrily. That didn’t happen with this book. Rather than feeling like I’ve been lectured to I feel as if I’ve been given the gift of a glimpse of reality in the Middle East that no amount of news- watching could ever provide. A couple of days before I finished the book I read Rees’ explanation for writing the series and his notion, that he can be more truthful in writing fiction than he ever could while writing news, makes perfect, twisted sense.  It also helps explains why reading The Saladin Murders is an emotionally intense but satisfying and, dare I say, rewarding experience.

Audiobook specific comments: Daniel Philpott does a superb job differentiating the myriad of characters in the book and he really brought them all to life for me.

My rating 5/5

Other stuff

The book has also been reviewed at Euro Crime

The first book in this series, The Collaborator of Bethlehem, is also a wonderful book. I read it prior to starting this blog so I don’t have my full review here but you can see some of what I thought about it in my 2008: A year in reading post where I nominated the book as my favourite read of the year.

A third book in the series, The Samaritan’s Secret, was released this year and I will definitely be reading it.

This entry was posted in book review, Matt Beynon Rees, Palestine. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Review: The Saladin Murders by Matt Beynon Rees

  1. The cover is revolting, yet beckoning! This sounds good to me..

    everything distils into reading

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  2. Dorte H says:

    I like the cover!
    This sounds good.

    Like

  3. Pingback: Soho Press Blog » Blog Archive » Forward: Palestinian society, warts and all — and some mortal danger

  4. Matt Rees says:

    Thanks for the great review. You’ve picked up on just the elements of Omar’s character and the situation of the Palestinians which I wanted readers to learn about…. Without lecturing of course 😉 Delighted also that you like Daniel’s reading of the novel. It must be rather tough to read aloud a book in a foreign setting, while also making the different names and places comprehensible. But Daniel does a great job of that and I’m happy you gave him credit for it. Best, Matt

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  5. jovenus says:

    This book looks interesting. Saw your comment today about Secret History by Donna Tartt, I’ll paste it here so that you don’t miss it! :

    I swear when I was reading the book (Secret history) I thought about recommending you this one, but I was afraid that it might not fit into your preferred genre of crime fiction! It is a thriller though, and for all the reasons I adore the book, I am sure you will find this enjoyable if you take the time to read it. Thanks for dropping in.

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  6. bernadetteinoz says:

    Funny that there are comments about the cover…with an audio book (especially a downloaded one) the cover is virtually irrelevant as you don’t see it every time you pick up the book unlike a physical book.

    Thanks for stopping by Matt. And for Omar of course.

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