Thursday, June 23, 2011

Staff Pick - Omar Yussef mystery series by Matt Rees

International writers are certainly a hot trend right now among North American mystery readers. Scandinavia is the most obvious example, with the popularity of Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo and Henning Mankell. South African crime writers have become quite buzzworthy as well, such as authors Deon Myer and Malla Nunn

If you enjoy exotic locales and cultures for your mystery reading, I would suggest that you check out Matt Rees and his Omar Yussef mystery series.

Rees, a former Time magazine journalist based in Jerusalem, has created an intriguing and complex Palestinian protagonist in Omar Yusseff. Living in Bethlehem presents all sorts of complications for Omar, making his detective work proceed like no other's.

His first title, The Collaborator of Bethlehem received starred reviews from Booklist, Publisher's Weekly and Library Journal. It tells the story of history teacher Omar Yussef who is faced with the dilemma of seeing a student falsely accused of treason and realizing that there is nobody to defend him. Although he is older and inexperienced with legal issues, he can not be passive in face of this serious injustice. Thus begins his journey.

The power of these stories are in Rees' ability to combine an incredible sense of place with a fast paced, emotional storyline. His real world knowledge of the Middle East and the ways of the people there are quite evident. This insider's knowledge, combined with Rees' way with language, makes the stories ring true, helping to really ratchet up the tension.

Here are some reviewer's comments:

"Rees captures the human spark of daily lives being led in totally polarized, soul-deadening conditions. Ideologically driven absurdity blocks Yussef's way from every direction, but he plods on in his nice shoes, determined to throw "the filth out of his own home with hopelessly insufficient tools." With the recent death of Israeli novelist Batya Gur, there is a very large gap to be filled in the crime fiction of the Middle East, and Rees seems poised to fill it." - Booklist

"The characters and the setting are so richly textured and the politicized events so wrenching that the mystery story becomes incidental. Though the story's conclusion offers a gratifying payoff, for many readers the real reward will be a more immediate sense of a distant and bewildering conflict" - Publisher's Weekly

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