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by Matt Beynon Rees
Soho Crime, February 2008
340 pages
ISBN: 1569474729

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Omar Yussef is a 50-something teacher in a school in the Dehaisha refugee camp in Palestine near Bethlehem. He is sent by the UN relief works agency to the Gaza Strip to inspect a school there. Another UN worker and a Scottish security man accompany him. Right away they are informed that Eyad Masharawi, a professor at the university and a part-time teacher at the Shati Refuge Camp has been arrested.

It is said that he was taken away for espionage committed at the school. The three men decide to find out what happened and they immediately go to speak to the professor's wife. She insists that her husband wasn't arrested for espionage, but for openly speaking against the university selling degrees to Preventative Security men.

An intelligent and clear-sighted man, Omar can tell that a great wrong has been done. Though he more than knows that he isn't a super sleuth, he can't turn away from what has happened. Later when one of the men he was working with is kidnapped, he realizes that he is in for a fight unlike any he has known or is ready for.

Though the mystery section of the story is very well done, the author Matt Beynon Rees does a masterful job of bringing the sights and smells, the heat and the feelings of the people who try to live and survive in Gaza alive to the readers. And since there are so many sides to every problem in the Middle East, Rees's writing also tries to help the readers to understand what it is like to survive under such hardships and the small victories that rule the lives of the people there today. The writing is literate and completely absorbing.

The character of Omar is a wonderful lead for any book. In no way is he a crime-fighting, muscular force for good. He is only in his 50s, but he has white hair, he is stooped and short and he looks older than his years. He is also not a sweet lovable man more than willing to overlook his safety in order to have an adventure. The truth is that he hates Gaza and wants to get back to the comforts of his home as soon as possible, but he simply can't turn his back when he comes across such terrible wrongs. He speaks his mind, even if it is a harsh truth, but he is a charming curmudgeon and someone you would value knowing.

The book does go over the top sometimes, having Omar meet action-based challenges a bit too easily, but since the book is gruelingly truthful when it describes the horrors of life there and so very real for the majority of the story, these moments can be forgiven.

A GRAVE IN GAZA is wonderfully-written book. The mystery portion is tight and will keep you guessing. The rest of the book has to do with life in the Middle East and the problems that politics and interest groups put upon the people living there. Read this book for its wonderful writing and the information that it has about the war-torn area of the Middle East. It really shouldn't be missed.

Reviewed by A. L. Katz, January 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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