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The Fourth Assassin
Omar Yussef Mystery, No 4
Matt Beynon Rees

Soho Crime
Februrary 8, 2011 / 1569478856 [reprint]
Mystery / NYC / Contemporary

Reviewed by L J Roberts

First Sentence: As he left the R train and came up the narrow, gum-blackened steps from the Fourth Avenue subway in Brooklyn, Omar Yussef glanced around for armed robbers and smiled.

Palestinian Omar Yussef is in New York City for a UN conference, thinking the worst he'll experience is dealing with his boss, who hates him. He does not expect to going to Brooklyn to visit his son and finding a beheaded body on his son's bed. Yussef becomes caught up in trying to achieve justice while dealing with murder, deception, and some of the same political struggles from home being brought to this country.

What a fascinating book this was. We are introduced to Little Palestine in Brooklyn as the protagonist is introduced to a new country. We see a bit of this country through someone not only from a different place, but an entirely different culture. The author evocatively depicts the conflicts of young people raised in a strict culture but now, in the US, living in one which is much more open. At the same time, we learn a bit more about Arab culture; the different factions and religions, the customs and courtesies and how complicated it all is-the pressures brought to bear on men by the varying groups; and on women by their families and religious customs. To paraphrase the author, it is a life driven by politics and ideology, murder and greed.

In Yussef, Rees has created a wonderful character. He is much more than a schoolteacher, but someone who has lived in violence and has fought to survive. He questions whether he has done any good through his teaching. There is a scene of emotional devastation which is very strong yet, even as do Catholics, he instinctively responds to the scene with the conventions of his faith. I particularly appreciate the author providing us with Youseff's inner dialogue; his thoughts, fears and observations. He does occasionally do things which, in a female, might be considered too-stupid-to-live, but can be excused by the stranger-in-a-strange-land mentality of not knowing who to trust. Yusseff, as a character, is nicely balanced by his friend, Khamis Zeydan, the Bethlehem chief of police, also there for the UN conference. There is excellent dialogue throughout the book, but the interchanges between them allow for flashes of dry humor, which is particularly appreciated.

The story has a very good, if slightly and increasingly complicated, plot. The author handles plot twists and surprises very effectively. There is tension but it is someone lost in the complexity. There's almost too much going on.

"The Fourth Assassin" is certainly a compelling read, as much for what can be learned about a different culture, as for the mystery itself.

Reviewed 2012