The third Omar Yussef Mystery, from the winner of the CWA John Creasey Dagger. Best Mystery Book of the Year: Deadly Pleasures magazine
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A member of the tiny but ancient Samaritan community who controlled hundreds of millions of dollars of government money has been murdered. Omar Yussef must find the missing money before all international aid to the Palestinians is cut off.
When Omar Yussef travels to Nablus, the West Bank’s most violent town, to attend a wedding he little expects the trouble that awaits him. An ancient Torah scroll belonging to the Samaritan’s descendants of the biblical Joseph, has been stolen. The dead body of a young Samaritan discovered and the theft takes an unexpected turn. Omar is driven into the murky alleys and tunnels of the old casbah, where he uncovers a violent rift between the government and Hamas militants, the secret deals of a rich businessman, and the shadowy world of the tiny Samaritan community.
“Provocative and humane…Rees adopts a humanist perspective, keeping the military maneuvers in the background and focusing on ordinary people struggling to live ordinary lives.”
– The New York Times Book Review
Omar Yussef is the most unlikely detective in modern whodunnits. He does not study fingerprints, collect physical evidence or check alibis…He believes that one must intervene in the present to shape history.” — Nthabisang Moreosele in The Sowetan
A wonderful detective thriller … in which Arafat’s late life and death lurk as vivid presence and macabre ghost. — Marty Peretz, The New Republic
“Thick with atmosphere, memorable, unusual and the clearest possible proof that mystery fiction can be moulded into any literary form and is often highly instructive.” —–Anthony Lejeune, The Tablet
The depth and heart in Omar Yussef’s third case makes it a tearjerker as well as a page-turner. — Kirkus Reviews
In 1997, I went to Nablus to investigate the theft of a historic Torah scroll from this Samaritan synagogue. I knew about the parable of The Good Samaritan, but I had no idea the people still existed. The Samaritan’s Secret begins with Omar Yussef visiting this synagogue because of the theft of a scroll.
The Samaritans moved out of in Nablus in the 1980s to escape the violence of the first intifada. They built this village on the ridge high above Nablus. In the foreground are the stones of their ancient Temple. There’s a profound quiet on the mountaintop. That, I thought, makes it a very good place for a murder.
The first time I visited Nablus in 1996, I quickly completed my reporting for the news article that brought me there and took time to wander the casbah. Most of The Samaritan’s Secret takes place in these mysterious, vaulted pathways.
I used this Hamas mosque in the casbah as the basis for the one featured in The Samaritan’s Secret. I first met its imam when I went to report on a big wedding Hamas put on. Nablus men found they often couldn’t pay the dowry required to marry. So Hamas paid for dozens of brides and grooms to wed – to show that Hamas was looking out for ordinary people in a way that the PLO wasn’t.
A Hamas poster on a mosque in the casbah for a celebration of the group’s anniversary. The divisions between the Palestinian factions always fascinated me. On my first visit to Nablus, I reported on the torture death of a young activist at the hands of Palestinian police in the city’s Juneid Prison. It was a different focus from most reporters, I guess.
The plaza around the clocktower features in The Samaritan’s Secret as the location of a Hamas rally. On a research trip for the book, I met a gunman wandering past it in the middle of the afternoon with his M-16 across his chest. Israeli soldiers had invaded the casbah only a few days before to arrest him. He evaded them and felt safe enough among the afternoon shoppers, when I saw him. Two days later he was killed by Israeli soldiers near here.
These tombs from the Ottoman period have been enclosed by a building as the casbah expanded over them. Buried here are members of the influential Touqan clan. The bars surrounding them were blown away by Israeli troops searching for an arms cache. It’s the kind of thing you find all over the casbah – traces of a time when power was in other hands, alongside signs of the struggles that go on today. In The Samaritan's Secret, Omar hides here.
This center of the casbah, the Yasmina neighborhood. I’ve often stood in these shadows watching people pass. There’s a spice shop in the dark door on the right and the smell of cardamom from the grinders is delicious. One of my main characters lives in Yasmina and has a nasty exchange on this spot.
Samaritans celebrate Passover on Mount Jerizim. They maintain ancient Jews once observed Passover this way. Their High Priest says their Torah and that of the Jews are the same, “except for 7,000 errors in the Jewish one.”
There are two old Turkish baths in the casbah. This is the biggest and it’s also a social center where men come (except Tuesday, which is ladies’ day) to smoke a water pipe. I'm no clean freak, but Omar Yussef’s distaste for the large amount of mold growing thickly all over the showers is based on my reaction.
On the summit of Jerizim beside the ruins of the Samaritan temple stands a Byzantine fortress. Many times I’ve looked out over the hills toward the Jordan Valley. It’s a peaceful, beautiful place and hard to imagine the violence that surrounds it. I set part of the concluding action of my novel in this fortress.
Nablus is famous among Arabs for its qanafi, hot goat’s cheese covered in syrup. The less serious element of The Samaritan’s Secret is the question of whether Omar Yussef -- who doesn't like sweets -- will eat any during his visit.
Constantly at risk from all manner of idealists with guns, Yussef soldiers on, his concern for individual human lives standing in stark contrast to the world around him. — Bill Ott, Booklist (Starred review)
Rees excels in capturing the essence of Palestine, from the claustrophobic casbah with its myriad scents to the harsh beauty of the countryside. Rees vividly illustrates daily Palestinian life, where violence is a constant threat and religious attitudes permeate each decision. — Publishers Weekly
Matt wrote and performed this song about The Samaritan’s Secret:
Sick and Sweet: The Samaritan’s Secret by Matt Rees
My third novel THE SAMARITAN’S SECRET is set in Nablus and hinges around the corruption of some Palestinian leaders encountered by Omar Yussef — and qanafi, a particularly cloying dessert that’s a specialty of the city. Hence this song’s title.