The Saladin Murders by Matt Rees
Frankly I found this a very depressing read, and knowing that reality probably mirrors this fictitious tale in many of its grisly dimensions was very bitter to contemplate.
This is the second Omar Yussef mystery and it plays out in Gaza, a dump in every sense of the word according to the protagonists. The dirt, the sandstorms, the corruption, the religious zealotry, the garbage, the ruins, and so many deaths and corpses are the order of the day in that terrible place.
Omar Yussef comes to Gaza as part of a UN group. He is investigating with his UN boss the arrest of a colleague who is also a part time lecturer at Al-Azhar University. This innocuous beginning quickly spirals into something sinister as one UN man gets kidnapped and another is assasinated. Soon the corpses pile up among Palestinians rival factions from one killing to another revenge. I lost track of the motives, the agendas and the rivalries. What is left is the deep sense of futility as corrupt politicians fight it out and squabble over this pile of garbage that is Gaza. In this story Israeli violence and hostility do not exist; it is all about Palestinian internal strife. The violence between rival factions is extreme and almost mindless, and the distasteful part is that you cannot even dismiss LAW wielding fighters as far-fetched. Just because the events take place in Gaza, the craziest and the most mindless violence is possible.
A woman in the story says: “Sometimes I think that the only Palestinians who do not weep are the dead ones”.
I was saddened by a little boy, who showed Omar Yussef the doves he is raising on the roof, an innocent child who would soon be struck by tragedy and grief. Nobody remains innocent for long in this environment. Yet people laugh and joke, they exchange wisecracks in the face of death and enjoy a distinct gallows humor, which rang very true. Those Palestinians are tough, and they can put up with a lot of suffering. Omar Yussef says: “I am Palestinian” by way of explanation of his tough nature and tolerance of hardship, but even he was pleased to leave the dust of Gaza, its graves and graveyards behind.
Triptych by Karin Slaughter
I will first start with the title of the book. This is the first time I remember when I look up a title in the dictionary. My digital Collins says:
n 1. a set of three pictures or panels, usually hinged so that the two wing panels fold over the larger central one: often used as an altarpiece
2. a set of three hinged writing tablets
From Greek triptukhos, from tri- + ptux plate.
One of the story’s characters has a triptych on her mantelpiece. When the two side panels fold over the central one a new image or canvas is formed. There is a blurb on the book cover: Three people with something to hide. One killer with nothing to lose. I believe the Triptych reference is to these three people and the way their deception makes things take different forms at different times.
I bought this book after I read Fractured by the same author because I liked the character of Special Agent Will Trent and wanted to read more about his personal story. This book did not disappoint, as the plot moved at a cracking pace. There were plenty of unexpected twists that kept me turning the pages, and re-reading some parts to discover how the author expertly wove the pattern of deception.
I love the way Karin Slaughter handles her characters. Unlike clean predictable sleuths such as Temperance Brennan (Kathy Reich’s forensic anthropologist), Karin Slaughter comes up with more vulnerable and gritty characters for her police force. They show many human frailties that anyone can relate to and sympathize with. Her characters fight their private battles as they are fighting crime, and this makes them all the more appealing.
The story starts with the murder and mutilation of Aleesha Munroe, a prostitute and a drug addict living in one of Atlanta’s rough neighborhood. Detective Michael Ormwood is in charge, but he soon finds out that he needs to work with Special Agent Will Trent from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). Will Trent is helping out because the murder has some similarities with other attacks around the state. Within 24 hours Michael’s next door neighbor is found dead in his backyard and in order to solve the mystery the two men need to look back into a past that refuses to stay buried.
I will not elaborate more on this excellent thriller in order not to spoil it for future readers. More than just a good thriller the story challenges the perceptions of right and wrong, justice and injustice. It showed the grim reality of prison and why a convicted felon almost always ends up back in prison.
I will remember many characters in this book. For example there was the mother character who fought bravely and unrelentingly for her son, it was a character I related to. She stands in contrast to the mother who fought blindly for her son doing a lot of damage to people’s lives in the process.
Another character later in the book speaks poignantly about her children: “It’s the most wonderful blessing God has given us, our ability to bring a child into the world. You hold them in our arms that first time, and they are more precious than gold. Every breath you take after that is only for your child”. This is so true.
The Samaritan’s Secret by Matt Rees
I kind of goofed up by picking up this work thinking that it is an earlier installment of the Omar Youssef series than another book I own, but this is the third item in the series not the first.
The setting is what makes these detective stories interesting. Omar Youssef is not the typical policeman he is a Palestinian school-teacher who finds himself embroiled in a murder mystery. This time he is traveling to Nablus with his family to attend a wedding of a police officer colleague when a tragedy strikes and a body is discovered in the vicinity of Samaritan temple. The victim is Ishaq, the son of the temple custodian, who was also the financial adviser of a senior political figure in the Palestinian hierarchy.
True to old-style detective novels Omar Youssef unravels the layers of the mystery surrounding the murder, giving us in the meantime a snapshot of life in the West Bank, the Palestinian realities of corruption, extremism and survival. It also gives some insight into the small Samaritan community resident near Nablus.
I found this a very quick and interesting read, a good old-fashioned mystery with clear-cut motives and none of the high-tech investigation style, which I suppose is something to be expected considering the setting of the West Bank.
Shatter by Michael Robotham
This is the first book I read by Australian author Michael Robotham. Joseph O’Loughlin is a clinical psychologist who gets called to talk down an unidentified naked woman poised to jump from Clifton Suspension Bridge. He is unable to communicate with here as she seemed to focus on someone else speaking to her through a cell phone, and ends up jumping in front of his eyes. A few days later the victim’s daughter shows up on Joe’s doorstep, and voices her own doubts about her mother’s ability to commit suicide.
This enters Joe into a personal battle with the evil mind of a killer. Someone who can humiliate, violate and break his victims by shattering their minds. The story is a fast-moving and terrifying thriller full of characters you can relate to. Joe himself is a broken and flawed; he suffers from Parkinson, and has no illusions about his powers of understanding the human mind. There are many interesting insights in the narrative that make it more than just a fiction thriller.
Joe experiences a range of emotions that anyone can recognize, and dissects them in a very self-effacing way. He says he got involved into psychology in the first place to better understand the woman he loves, his wife Julianne, but he admits that she remains largely a mystery to him. Joe also reflects on the variability of the human mind, the different ways people deal with pressure and grief. He makes very truthful observation about family, love and children. It is heartbreaking to note throughout the book that it is much easier to break a human mind than to heal it. The fractures of the human mind are mostly on the inside.
The book is written from the first person perspective of both Joe the psychologist and the perpetrator, bringing in contrast their treatment of the human mind, and adds a chilling aspect to the novel.
Here is a quote that touched close to my heart spoken by a minor character. She is a mother describing one feeling that is common to all parents:
“You never stop worrying. You worry through the pregnancy, the birth, the first year and every year that follows. You worry about them catching the bus, crossing the road, riding a bike, climbing a tree.. You read stories in newspapers about terrible things happening to children. It makes you frightened. It never goes away. And then you think how they grow up so quickly and suddenly you don’t have a say any more. You want them to find the perfect boyfriend and the perfect husband. You want them to get their dream job. You want to save them from every disappointment, every broken heart, but you can’t. You never stop being a parent. You never stop worrying. If you’re lucky, you’re going to be around to pick up the pieces”.