Omar Yussef, a history teacher from Bethlehem, makes a trip for a friend's wedding down to Nablus, the historical but bullet-torn West Bank Palestinian community. Omar Yussef's friend Sami is a police inspector, and when he learns that there has been a crime on the tiny religious mountaintop community of the Samaritans--their sacred scroll of Abisha, the focal point of their religion, has been stolen--Sami takes the too-curious Omar Yussef along for companionship. This is how the slightly arthritic 57-year-old Omar Yussef becomes embroiled in an increasingly dangerous murder mystery that seems to implicate everyone from the highest echelons of Palestinian landholders to the poorest, angriest lone gunman in Hamas.
This is an excellent mystery, with a satisfying story and a lovable protagonist. In terms of your standard detective fiction, this novel is truly special. Matt Beynon Rees spent years as Times' bureau chief in the Middle East, and his journalistic attention to the details of place and mood are brilliant. I actually feel, having read The Samaritan's Secret, like I've seen Palestine. The atmosphere and respect and detail for Palestinian culture are exquisite (including food, so be forewarned; this is another book that will leave you hungry). Rees's every scene is pregnant with fragrances, textures, and tastes, down to the damp feel of a building's shady wall under Omar Yussef's fingers or the stench of the gutters in the poor Yasmina district of the casbah.
Furthermore, I am grateful to Matt Beynon Rees for having educated me on the Palestinian situation--politics, religion, corruption, fundamentalist elements--more completely and more palatably than any newspaper article ever could. Somehow, he achieves this without making the book either too heavy, and it is a real joy to read. I would recommend this book particularly as a crossover for literary readers who don't normally read detective fiction, and vice versa.