Omar Yussef, a teacher at the Dehaisha refugee camp in Bethlehem, is a fussy, polite, middle-aged man with a combover. He’s the last person anyone would ever expect to make trouble, especially in the politically charged atmosphere of Bethlehem, where one wrong step (literally or figuratively) could place him and his family in lethal danger. But when a prominent Palestinian freedom fighter (or terrorist, depending on whom you ask) is shot just outside his own home, Omar can’t help getting involved — especially when his friend George Saba, a Christian and therefore a convenient scapegoat, is arrested for the killing. Omar knows that George is innocent and even finds evidence proving that he could not have committed the crime. But Omar’s friend the police chief is unwilling to investigate the matter further, since clearing George’s name would anger the militant Palestinians who champion the dead man as a martyr. So Omar resolves to investigate on his own; but the more he digs into the events surrounding the murder, the more he risks his own life.
I don’t know if I can say I liked this book…it’s very dark and very serious, and “liking” doesn’t seem like an appropriate response to it. But I’m extremely glad I read this novel, because it introduced me to a setting and a conflict that I honestly know very little about. The book does a wonderful job of depicting everyday life in Bethlehem, where the threat of violence is omnipresent and where the voices of extremism are much louder than the voices of moderation and peace. I really appreciated that the book does not paint either Israelis or Palestinians as the “bad guys,” but rather focuses on the struggles of individual people to do the right thing (or not) in a terrible situation. This novel is technically a murder mystery, but I found the detective work to be the least interesting part of the story. The urgency of the plot comes not from the hunt for the killer, but from Omar’s race against time to save his friend George. Overall, I found this book a fascinating read and will probably seek out more mysteries featuring Omar Yussef.