Rees, Matt Beynon 1967–
Rees, Matt Beynon 1967–
Born 1967, in Wales. Education: Attended Oxford University and the University of Maryland.
Cain's Field: Faith, Fratricide, and Fear in the Middle East, Free Press (New York, NY), 2004.
The Collaborator of Bethlehem ("Omar Yussef’ mystery series), Soho Crime (New York, NY), 2007, published as The Bethlehem Murders, Atlantic Books (London, England), 2007.
A Grave in Gaza ("Omar Yussef’ mystery series), Soho Crime (New York, NY), 2007, published as The Saladin Murders, Atlantic Books (London, England), 2008.
Contributor to Time. Author of the Matt Beynon Rees Blog.
Matt Beynon Rees was born in Wales, but has spent a great deal of time in the Middle East as a journalist, both as a correspondent and as the Jerusalem bureau chief for Time magazine from 2000 to 2006. Although Rees has written about the political situation in that region, in his first book, Cain's Field: Faith, Fratricide, and Fear in the Middle East, published in 2004, it is his series of mysteries featuring Omar Yussef, a Palestinian detective, that has been his most successful venture.
Cain's Field was the result of a conversation Rees had with a terrorist. In a meeting with Ahmed Jibril, head of the organization generally blamed for the downing of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, Rees realized that Jibril's explanations for all of the group's actions and all of their ideas were based on history that dated back to 1917, when he believed the political situation began to worsen for Palestinians due to the British decision to back the Jewish demand for a homeland. These statements made Rees consider his own family's history in Jerusalem during that year, when two of his great uncles rode to conquer the city with the British Imperial Camel Corps, and how he believed that automatic personalization of events was a common thread that might help people understand the strife in the region. On his home page, Rees explained: ‘It occurred to me that the most compelling stories I covered in my years in the Middle East had been about fraternal struggles, internal conflicts. That's how I got the idea to structure the book around such conflicts.’ A Publishers Weekly reviewer agreed that this was the key to the book's success, remarking of Rees: ‘His deep sympathy for both sides infuses his book with real vitality.’ Middle East Policy contributor Michael Rubner commented: ‘The message that Rees's beautifully written book conveys is straightforward and critically important."
The Collaborator of Bethlehem is the debut novel in Rees's mystery series featuring Omar Yussef. The book begins as Omar, a school teacher in Bethlehem, attempts to maintain his history classes without allowing current politics to come into play in his classroom or in the subject matter. Then a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) soldier is murdered and one of Omar's former students—a Christian from Palestine—is accused of the killing. Believing the man to be innocent of the crime, Omar shakes off his natural desire to stay out of potentially hazardous situations, and sets out to investigate the case on his own in the hopes that he might discover new evidence to exonerate his former student. Bill Ott, in a review for Booklist, called the novel ‘gripping,’ going on to add: ‘Rees captures the human spark of daily lives being led in totally polarized, soul-deadening conditions.’ A contributor to Kirkus Reviews opined: ‘In a city already divided by hatred, Omar Yussef's sleuthing is bound to be anticlimactic. But no one will forget his violent world."
Rees told CA: ‘When I was seven years old, my schoolteacher gave me a gold star for a poem I wrote about a tree. Since then I've always been a writer, whatever else I did to earn a living. When The Collaborator of Bethlehem was published, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal all gave the book starred reviews. So I'm back where I started. As a journalist, I always knew that I was looking for material that would enable me to use my writing skills truly to say something. With the Palestinians, I found that material.
"I absolutely love the writing of Raymond Chandler, in particular the way he builds the character of Marlowe over a number of books. Other writers that I particularly have been inspired by include Dashiell Hammett, Andrea Camilleri, John Le Carré and Graham Greene. Alongside The Big Sleep, my favorite book is The Quiet American.
"I take disparate stories I've covered as a journalist in the West Bank and Gaza and figure out a way to incorporate them all into a single narrative mystery. Before I write, I have to get the entire plot figured out, then I put down each chapter on a separate index card with information on each card about time, date, characters present, objects present, etc., and color code each bit of information. That's incredibly absorbing. Then I write a first draft at the rate of a chapter a day over the course of a month. Following that, there's about seven months of rewriting and polishing and additions. Throughout the writing process I have to maintain a schedule of meditation, yoga, and exercise; otherwise I can't concentrate. I also do certain yoga stretches while writing—I write standing up, so I can stretch while continuing to read my computer screen."
When asked which of his books is his favorite, Rees answered: ‘Each one gets better and better, so it's always the last one I've written (which readers don't get to see for a year and half after I complete it).
"I believe journalism fails to show the reality of life for Palestinians, because it's limited to supposedly objective facts—it can't go inside the heads of the people in the West Bank and Gaza. As a novelist, I have to do so. I hope that I'll show readers this reality, which is so much more complex than the stereotypes of Palestinians as terrorists or victims. I also hope the mystery will be an exciting read, written at a literary level somewhat higher than the average mystery."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, December 15, 2006, Bill Ott, review of The Collaborator of Bethlehem, p. 29.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2006, review of The Collaborator of Bethlehem, p. 1157.
Library Journal, December 1, 2006, Wilda Williams, ‘Q & A: Matt Beynon Rees,’ p. 100.
Middle East Policy, summer, 2005, Michael Rubner, review of Cain's Field: Faith, Fratricide, and Fear in the Middle East, p. 125.
Publishers Weekly, November 1, 2004, review of Cain's Field, p. 57; November 27, 2006, review of The Collaborator of Bethlehem, p. 34.
EU Funding Web site,http://www.eufunding.org/ (November 18, 2004), ‘An Interview with Matt Rees."
Matt Beynon Rees Home Page,http://www.mattbeynonrees.com (October 10, 2007).
Observer Online (London, England), http://books.guardian.co.uk/ (July 15, 2007), Conal Urquhart, ‘Morse, Rebus … and Now Yussef."