Friday, February 23, 2007

"The Collaborator of Bethlehem"

Matt Beynon Rees is the author of The Collaborator of Bethlehem, the first in a series about Palestinian sleuth Omar Yussef. Rees is an award-winning foreign correspondent and author of the nonfiction work Cain's Field: Faith, Fratricide, and Fear in the Middle East.

Matt applied the "page 69 test" to The Collaborator of Bethlehem and reported the following:
In this first of my Palestinian detective novels, Pg 69 turns out to be an argument over parking. As I've learned over almost 11 years in the Middle East, the Palestinians are the only people in the world for whom parking fails to appear on the list of life and death issues. Nonetheless, the conflict over where my hero Omar Yussef parks on Pg 69 is a vital turning point, which happens to represent his move from schoolteacher to amateur sleuth.

Omar drives -- badly -- to a village on the edge of Bethlehem to see the family of his former pupil, George Saba. George, a Christian, faces the death penalty for collaborating with Israel in the killing of a Palestinian fighter. As Omar makes his way to George's family, the reader is uncertain whether it's a friendly call or a first step into detective work.

When Omar parks his rattling old car, a young gunman demands he move it: "You can't park here. This area is reserved for my roadblock." The gunmen of the Martyrs Brigades rule Bethlehem by fear and the police refuse to stand up to them. But as a schoolteacher, Omar has already complained about the lack of respect young Palestinians show for their elders -- Omar's 56 years old -- and now he fights back:

Omar Yussef turned a full circle demonstratively in the street. "There's plenty of room," he said. "Even a tank could pass through, and I expect if the Israelis did drive a tank down here you wouldn't be around to stop them."

If he makes any trouble for him, Omar says, he'll call down the wrath of the youngster's boss: "I'm a detective and I'm conducting an investigation of importance to national security. Now keep an eye on my car or Hussein Tamari will have your head." He leaves the gunman kicking a stone in the gutter like a surly teenager in one of Omar's classrooms.

It's Omar's first step toward protecting the people he loves against the armed villains who lord it over their historic town.
Read more about the novel at Matt's website and his blog.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.