Politics seems an unavoidable subject, since Matt Beynon Rees sets his series in the nexus of Israel and Palestine. Omar Yussef Sirhan is Muslim, but he speaks English and maintains a liberal, conciliatory attitude towards the abundance of conflicting cultures that make up his world. Jewish and Christian and now Samaritan are observed by his open and tolerant eye. In his world, Hamas and Fatah and the Israelis simmer in the cultural stew, which sometimes erupts into violence. And Omar Yussef often finds himself plopped right in the middle. However, Rees's stories are much more about what makes an individual tick (within a cultural context) than it is about tribal, regional, or national conflict. These are human stories with a political base.
Omar Yussef and his family have received permission to journey to Nablus to witness the marriage of a friend. Khamis Zeydan is the police chief in Bethlehem and he, too, has come to witness the ceremony. Before they know it, they are embroiled in trying to solve the murder of the son of a Samaritan priest. They must investigate despite the heating up of tensions between the Hamas and Fatah factions, and the impending withdrawal of World Bank funds to help an ailing Palestine.
Sometimes action is forsaken for a slow look into a ritual or traditional exchange, and this makes Rees's book move along in fits and starts. Rees is cognizant of how little we in the west know about the structure and traditions of that part of the world. Reading his books is an educational experience as well as entertainment.
Omar Yussef is a difficult character to peg. He is as old as his years and in bad physical shape. Although he is a teacher and respectable member of his community, the eccentricities and abuses of his youth have caught up with him. He is open-minded but easily gets angry with others. He cares for his family but he views them critically. He is smart and intuitive but sometimes doesn't stop to think before he speaks. There is an attempt on his life in this book, and it is a wonder there weren't more.
I greatly admire Rees for bringing us this series. It puts names and faces, however fictional, to a foreign way of life and thinking. It is good to look past the headlines to the culture and people behind them.
(While looking up Rees online, I came across a review written in England. I don't read other reviews until after I've completed mine, but I started to read this one. The reviewer gave away the ending; I couldn't believe it! It was a mean-spirited review that unnecessarily included what should have been a surprising revelation to the reader. Just had to vent here!)