Omar Yussef, a school principal in Bethlehem, is visiting Gaza with his college from the UN, Magnus Wallander, to inspect the schools in the refugee camps. On arrival they are welcomed by James Cree, a Scot working for the UN, who has just been informed that one of the local, part-time teachers has been arrested. Masharawi is also employed in the Islamic University, where he has denounced the practice of selling degrees to members of the security services seeking quick promotion. On the way to Masharawi’s home they pass the funeral of a security agent killed by a criminal gang linked to a rival military faction; an agent that seemingly bought one of the university’s degrees. Unwittingly, Omar Yussef, Wallander and Cree, are drawn into the political corruption and black marketeering of rival politicians, their private armies, and associated criminal gangs. Soon Wallander is kidnapped, Cree is dead, and Omar Yussef is left in a world alien to him, trying to free his friend, Masharawi, and the innocent man accused of killing the security agent. If it wasn’t for the presence of Khamis Zeyden, Bethlehem’s chief of police, and member of the Revolutionary Counci,l and his bodyguard, Sami, Omar Yussef would be completely at sea. The sensible thing to do would be to leave Gaza, especially when a contract is taken out on his life, and let the UN negotiate the Wallander’s freedom, but Omar Yussef is driven by a strong sense of responsibility, and using his detective skills he starts to piece together connections and patterns that others fail to see.
Like the first book in Beynon Rees series, The Collaborator of Bethlehem (one of my top ten reads of 2009), The Grave in Gaza is fascinating and entertaining read. Beynon Rees seemingly captures perfectly the geography, history, politics and culture of modern day Gaza; the factions, fears, uncertainties, sights and sounds, and the cruelty and humanity. In Omar Yussef he has created a wonderful character – wise, humane, comic, dogged. The story is a well plotted and paced, multi-textual, credible, and remarkably non-judgemental, simply telling the story as it unfolds and leaving the judgements to the reader. The narrative becomes a little ragged towards the end, and as with many crime novels the resolution rests on a coincidence that seemed unlikely, but nonetheless this was a hugely enjoyable read. The Samaritan’s Secret, the third Omar Yussef book is now on my wish list.