Matt Rees is a Welsh novelist and journalist. He is the author of The Palestine Quartet, a series of crime novels about Omar Yussef, a Palestinian sleuth, and of historical crime novels. He is the winner of a Crime Writers Association Dagger for his crime fiction.
His first work of nonfiction was Cain's Field: Faith, Fratricide, and Fear in the Middle East in 2004 (Free Press).
The New York Times called The Collaborator of Bethlehem, the first of his Palestinian crime novels about Bethlehem sleuth Omar Yussef, “an astonishing first novel.” The Independent (London) hailed Omar as “the next big sleuth in crime fiction.” Le Figaro called the book “a masterpiece.” Under its UK title The Bethlehem Murders the first Omar Yussef novel won the Crime Writers Association's John Creasey New Blood Dagger in 2008.
Rees's writing has been compared with the work of Graham Greene, John Le Carre, Georges Simenon and Henning Mankell. The French magazine L’Express called him “the Dashiell Hammett of Palestine.” Rees's books have sold in 25 languages.
Rees was born in Newport, Wales. As a journalist, Rees covered the Middle East for over a decade. He was TIME's Jerusalem bureau chief from 2000 until 2006, writing award-winning stories about the Palestinian intifada. He also worked as Middle East correspondent for The Scotsman and Newsweek.
Rees published a nonfiction account of Israeli and Palestinian society called Cain's Field: Faith, Fratricide, and Fear in the Middle East in 2004 (Free Press). The book examines the divisions within Israel and within Palestinian society, suggesting that a peace deal would only be possible between the two sides when these internal frictions were resolved.
His first crime novel, The Collaborator of Bethlehem (UK title The Bethlehem Murders), was published in the U.S. in February 2007 by Soho Press. The novel is set in Bethlehem, West Bank, against the backdrop of the Palestinian intifada and involves the gangs of gunmen operating in the town and the situation of the Christian Palestinian minority. It won the prestigious Crime Writers Association John Creasey New Blood Dagger in 2008, and was also nominated for the Barry First Novel Award, the Macavity First Mystery Award, and the Quill Best Mystery Award. The New York Times called it “an astonishing first novel.” It was named one of the Top 10 Mysteries of the Year by Booklist and, in the UK Sir David Hare made it his Book of the Year in The Guardian. Colin Dexter, author of the Inspector Morse novels, called Rees’s Palestinian sleuth Omar Yussef “a splendid creation.” Omar was called “Philip Marlowe fed on hummus” by one reviewer and “Yasser Arafat meets Miss Marple” by another.
The second book in the series, A Grave in Gaza, appeared in February 2008 (and at the same time under the title The Saladin Murders in the UK). Omar Yussef travels to Gaza, where he struggles against corrupt security chiefs who are smuggling weapons. The Bookseller called it “a cracking, atmospheric read.” The third book in the series, The Samaritan’s Secret, was published in February 2009. Set in Nablus, it takes place against the backdrop of the city's ancient casbah and the small community of Samaritans still living on a hilltop overlooking the West Bank town. The New Republic called it "a wonderful detective thriller." Rees's fourth novel, The Fourth Assassin, appeared in February 2010 and showed Omar Yussef to be "one of the most beguiling of current sleuths," according to The Sunday Times. Omar goes to New York for a UN conference and uncovers an assassination plot.
Rees's novels approach the Middle East conflict from an often unexpected direction. There are almost no Israeli characters, and the novels maintain a focus on Palestinian society, good and bad. Rees has written that this perspective was dictated by his discontent with news reporting of the conflict, which focused on stereotypes of Palestinians as either terrorists or victims. Instead, Rees writes, the diversity of Palestinian society awakened him creatively and made him look at the Middle East from a different angle. For example, Gaza "is the most beautiful spot imaginable," he has said.
Mozart's Last Aria, published in 2011, is a historical crime novel set in Vienna in 1791. Nannerl Mozart, the great composer's sister, comes to the Imperial capital to investigate Wolfgang's death. She uncovers a plot involving illegal Masonic meetings, espionage, and a secret hidden in her brother's last great opera The Magic Flute. The book is based on real historical research into Mozart's last days.
A Name in Blood follows the mysterious disappearance and death of the Italian artist Caravaggio. Like Mozart's Last Aria, A Name in Blood takes a real historical mystery and new historical research to create a fictional account of what might have happened. The Bookbag recommended A Name in Blood "even if you're art-averse."
Rees learned to play piano as part of his research for Mozart's Last Aria. Working on A Name in Blood, he learned to paint with oils and to duel using a seventeenth-century rapier.
In 2012, Rees launched a musical project on his website called Poisonville, named after the location of Dashiell Hammett's novel Red Harvest. Poisonville is a free music project recording original songs, most of them written and performed by Rees, about different crime novels. The subjects of the first songs were Rees's novels, as well as books by Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Helen FitzGerald and Jasmine Schwartz.
- Cain's Field: Faith, Fratricide, and Fear in the Middle East 2004 (Free Press).
The Palestine Quartet (Omar Yussef novels)
- The Collaborator of Bethlehem (The Bethlehem Murders) 2007
- A Grave in Gaza (The Saladin Murders) 2008
- The Samaritan's Secret 2009
- The Fourth Assassin 2010
- Mozart's Last Aria 2011
- A Name in Blood 2012
- The New York Times Book Review, "HMS Bounty Hunting" by Marilyn Stasio, February 25, 2007
- The Independent, | http://arts.independent.co.uk/books/news/article2697799.ece |June 23, 2007
- Le Figaro Magazine, p.86, "Policierement Incorrect" by Jean-Louis Tremblais, May 12, 2007
- Tom Tivnan, in The Bookseller, Nov. 5, 2007
- John Dugdale, "Thriller Roundup", The Sunday Times, March 28, 2010
- Matt Rees, "How I found peace in Gaza", The Sunday Telegraph, 20 April 2008.
- Ani Johnson, The Bookbag .
- Matt Rees, "Gentleman and thug: researching my new historical novel" The Man of Twists and Turns, 4 November 2010
- Matt Rees, http://www.mattrees.net/poisonville/