Omar Yussef Mystery, No 4
Matt Beynon Rees
Februrary 8, 2011 / 1569478856 [reprint]
Mystery / NYC / Contemporary
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
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.