Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A Foggy Day in London Town... or A Dusty Day in Bethlehem

Wherever I go in the world, however far I may stray, I always return to my first love. She is both decorous and demure, beautiful and harsh, enticing and repelling. She satisfies my intelligence and my base instincts, nourishes and starves me. I have attempted a trial separation without success. A divorce is out of the question. I, my friends, am a mystery reader.

Those of you who have read about my Sacred Shelf of 10 know that about 50% of the books are true mystery (either literary or genre). Another ten to twenty percent may arguably be called a mystery.

There are mysteries that instantly draw me in and other that take a while to warm to. Mysteries set in locations where I have been, or are familiar with, are those to which I gravitate the most. For example, a favorite location is Seattle, and thus my collection of Lou Boldt mysteries by Ridley Pearson and the J.P. Beaumont mysteries by J.A. Jance. Many mysteries I read are set in either the United States or England (although I've never been, I plan to go someday soon), with a smattering of others set in Europe or the Far East. One setting that has never fully caught my interest are mysteries set in the Middle East (though the Amelia Peabody mysteries by Elizabeth Peters, set in Egypt, are highly engaging). Even when I was reading the Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell mysteries by Laurie King, the hardest book of the series to get through was "O, Jerusalem." I don't understand the lack of appeal, but to me the Middle East seems less mysterious than, say, a foggy London evening or a rainy Seattle night.

Yet, still I try to read all mysteries that I can. If I can't find something to intrigue me quickly and drag me deep into the depths of a story, I will put a book down and move on. On to the next! Honestly, this is what I expected to do when I picked up a copy of "The Collaborator of Bethlehem" by Matt Beynon Rees. It is not what happened.

Rees writes this novel with a knowledge of the area, its culture, politics and economics, having been the former Jerusalem bureau chief for Time magazine. This intimate knowledge is what gives the book its instant intrigue. You feel as if you are walking down the dusty streets with the protagonist, Omar Yussef, a school teacher who is forced into the role of investigator in an attempt to save the life of a former student accused of collaboration with the Israelis in the murder of a leader of the Palestinian Martyrs Brigade.

Where at least a sense of law and order appear in many mysteries, this book leaves you looking for order where there is none and law is only what the bully with the biggest gun in town says it is. Though Omar is confronted and threatened and an attempt on his life is made, he will stop only when he finds the truth. That search for truth will take him where friends may truly be enemies and knowing who to trust is impossible.

I finished this book with a greater appreciation for mysteries set in the Middle East. I may not search them out, but should one come along, I will certainly give it a chance to prove itself.

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