Omar Yussef, a middle-aged teacher at a school in Bethlehem, is accompanying his boss Magnus Wallender on an inspection of the UN schools in Gaza, along with James Cree, another UN official. Almost as soon as they cross the border, however, they are confronted with injustice and violence: a professor who exposed corruption at his university has just been arrested and will likely be killed, unless Omar can prevent it from happening. Meanwhile, a lieutenant in a Palestinian military group has just been killed, and the presumed culprit is part of an arms-smuggling organization called the Saladin Brigade. But when Omar speaks to the alleged murderer, he begins to wonder whether the man is actually guilty. As Omar and his colleagues investigate these issues, they realize that the two crimes might be connected. At the same time, they are drawn deeper and deeper into a rivalry between military leaders who are fighting for control of Gaza; as a result, their own lives may be in danger.
As with The Collaborator of Bethlehem, the strength of this book is its depiction of life in contemporary Palestine. Rees uses his journalistic background to portray the conflicts, corruption, and political turmoil of this region in an extremely vivid way. At the same time, he illustrates the lives of ordinary Palestinians with great sympathy, showing how they try to do their best in very difficult circumstances. Read as a mystery novel, the story isn’t particularly compelling; although Omar Yussef does solve the lieutenant’s murder, that investigation is secondary to his discovery of how the various crimes and acts of violence are linked together. I liked learning a little more about Omar Yussef’s past in this installment of the series, as well as seeing more of his friendship with the Bethlehem police chief. There are also a few new characters that I’ll be interested to follow in future books. Overall, this is a book and series I’d highly recommend for its setting, and I will probably seek out the third Omar Yussef mystery at some point.