Tuesday, August 11, 2009
The Samaritan's Secret
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Sometimes the way a story ends can make an average story a whole lot better. That's what happens with Matt Rees' The Samaritan's Secret.
As I was reading along, I found myself thinking, "I love the setting and the undertone of violence. Palestine is a violent place, but . . ."
It sounds trite to say. My initial reaction was, "Too much talk and not enough action." There were murders and all kinds of other violence, but some chapters were just too long on talking to suit my taste.
That was rectified by the ending of this quite well-plotted book.
It is hard to describe the power of the Palestinian setting and its history. At one point, a Samaritan character says:
"Nablus was entirely ours in the days of the Byzantines. Then the Muslims came. We lived beside them for centuries in the casbah, until we found ourselves caught between them and the Israelis. First we moved out of the casbah to this neighborhood, then we had to leave Nablus completely for our new village on the top of Mount Jerizim."
Almost from its beginning, the story is built around the Abisha scroll, the Samaritans' most sacred object. The scroll is as important to them as an authenticated Shroud of Turin would be to Christians.
The Samaritan's secret is really a secret. It is not revealed until the end of the book, where the whole story folds together in a satisfying way.
If you've ever lived in a small town, you can understand a bit about this place. Everybody knows everybody else. At least it seems that way. And many of the people have secret connections and hidden pasts.
There are two central plot motivators in the book. The first is the three-hundred-million dollars hidden by the now-deceased Old Man (the great Fatah leader never mentioned by name).
The second is the packet of "dirt files" a powerful man complied to use against his enemies.
There is also a strong family/friend component to the story.
Everything is a matter of intrigue, and even the murders are tied up in religious beliefs. The place itself is incredibly violent. You could be killed suddenly, and that's true even if you are a child.
To me, the regional and religious parts--the food, the geography, the buildings, the sacred objects, and the people--were most interesting. I would have read the book for those things alone.
I will read more Matt Rees.