Author Guest Post - Matt Rees

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Samaritan's Secret (An Omar Yussef Mystery)
Matt Beynon Rees
288 p, Soho Press, 1569475458
About The Book

A member of the tiny but ancient Samaritan community has been murdered. The dead man controlled hundreds of millions of dollars of government money. If the World Bank cannot locate it within the next several days, all aid money to the Palestinians will be cut off. Visiting Nablus, Omar Yussef must solve the murder and find the money, or all Palestinians will suffer.

About The Author

Matt Beynon Rees was born in South Wales. He covered the Middle East as a journalist for over a decade and was Time magazine’s Jerusalem bureau chief for 2000 to 2006. He is the author of the nonfiction work Cain’s Field: Faith, Fratricide and Fear in the Middle East and three mysteries in the Omar Yussef series. The first book in the series, The Collaborator of Bethlehem, won the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger.

Choosing a title – again, and again, and again
By Matt Beynon Rees

Writing a book that sells in many countries is like owning multiple passports. Each one bearing a different name. You can end up wonder exactly who you are.
My Palestinian crime novels have sold to publishers in 22 countries and appear under almost as many different titles. Needless to say, it isn’t me who’s changing the title. For aspiring writers or fans of fiction, I think it’s very interesting to look at how publishers chop and change titles to make them appeal to more readers, as they see it. It’s a slow process that has left me wondering just how many titles I’ll have to come up with before all my publishers are satisfied. Sometimes it makes writing the novel seem like the easy part. At least it's less confusing.

Take my first novel, published in the US as THE COLLABORATOR OF BETHLEHEM in 2007. For this story of gangster Palestinian militias and a schoolteacher’s fight to save a former pupil from execution for collaborating with Israeli soldiers, my original title was “The Blood of the Martyr.” I thought it was a good play on a line spoken by the hero during one of the climactic scenes and also a reference to the topical concept of “martyrdom” in Arab society.

My New York agent thought it was too political, so we came up with “The Collaborator.” When Soho Press bought it, they tacked “of Bethlehem” onto the end as a clear signal of location.
But my London publisher had different thoughts. To the British ear, he said, “collaborator” suggests a World War II thriller, which would be popular with men. We want women, he said, to buy your book, so let’s make it clear that it’s a mystery. Hence in the UK the book appeared as “The Bethlehem Murders.” It sounds a little more like a “cosy,” perhaps, than I’d have liked, given that my book is to say the least rather gritty.
Then we hit Europe. In Italy and Spain, it was “The Teacher of Bethlehem.” Germany, Portugal and Holland went with “The Traitor of Bethlehem” and in Norway and Sweden we had “Murder in Bethlehem.”
With my second book, published in the US as A GRAVE IN GAZA, I thought I’d nailed it. My sleuth goes to Gaza and is involved in a plot surrounding weapons smuggling and corruption among Palestinian security chiefs. I’d spoil it if I said how the “grave” features in the plot, but it does. The title alliterated and had the feel of a mystery.
But, opined my London publisher, “Gaza” makes people think of nonfiction and the news. Stick with “The ------ Murders,” he suggested. So I came up with “The Saladin Murders,” because the missile that’s being smuggled is called the Saladin and the main road through the Gaza Strip, on which some of the action takes place, is called the Saladin Road.
That title, I think, was a little bit too cosy-ish. But it has a flavor of the Middle East, so it seems to have worked.
Meanwhile in Italy the book was called “Death in Gaza” …you get the picture.
With my third novel finally US and UK publishers agreed and brought out the book under the same title in February. THE SAMARITAN’S SECRET fit the plot, which takes place partially among the remnants of the ancient sect of Samaritans who live on a hilltop in the West Bank, and had the right mysterious feel. Everyone was happy.
Then last week my French publisher decided on “Murder Among the Samaritans” – and here we go again.

Matt Beynon Rees’s latest Palestinian crime novel The Samaritan’s Secret is published by Soho Press. His website is

Thank you for that insight into an author's dilemma, Matt. The book sure sounds good and I hope to read it one day. Readers, your thoughts and comments are most welcome!

To take a virtual tour of Nablus and the locations in Matt Beynon Rees's The Samaritan's Secret, click here.

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1 People said

  1. This was an incredibly funny - and educational - post. I would LOVE to see what other countries would do with my book and title.


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