Rees, Matt - 'The Fourth Assassin'
THE FOURTH ASSASSIN is the fourth in journalist Matt Rees' series of thrillers featuring Omar Yousef, teacher at the Dehaisha refugee camp in Bethlehem. In this book the action takes place in New York, a contrast from the usual Palestinian setting. Yousef is in New York to speak at a UN conference about Palestine in his capacity as educational expert. The Palestinian President and his security team, including Khamis Zeydan, Yousef's friend, are also in New York for the conference.
Yousef is also glad to take the chance to visit his son Ala who has recently moved to New York to start a career as a computer programmer, sharing a flat with two of his Bethelehem friends in the Little Palestine area. But when Yousef visits Ala's flat he is shocked to find the headless corpse of Nizar, Ala's friend and flatmate. The other flatmate, Rashid, has vanished. The three young men were former pupils of Yousef, and formed a clique called the "Assassins", together with a fourth young man, Ismail. Although the name Assassins was meant as an innocent nod to Palestinian history, this is easily misconstrued by the New York police. The fourth Assassin, Ismail, fell out with Nizar and Rashid after betraying a Sheikh to the Israelis, whilst imprisoned by them, and moved away from Bethlehem.
Ala initially refuses to provide an alibi to the New York police, and is arrested and taken into custody, motivating Yousef to start investigating the murder to clear Ala. As Yousef finds out more about Ala and his flatmates activities in New York, he uncovers not only a lovers' triangle involving Ala, Nizar and Rania, daughter of Marwan, a cafe-owning immigrant from the Bekaa valley of Lebanon but also a potential threat to the Palestinian President and state. When the fourth Assassin, Ismail, resurfaces at the UN conference with a foreign delegation, matters become further complicated, resulting in a dramatic finale.
The action transfers surprisingly well from the usual Middle Eastern setting in this series to the US. Omar Yousef remains an engaging and realistic hero, a moderate and sceptical everyman. It is interesting to see New York and the UN political environment through the eyes of an outsider; Yousef struggles initially to cope with the alien coldness of the East Coast, finding both the elements and dealing with the public transport system and the police stressful. The plot unfolds at a brisk pace, with twists and turns right to the end of the novel. I thoroughly recommend the whole series of Yousef books to anyone with an interest in contemporary life in the Middle East.
Laura Root, England