by Bruce TierneyDecember, 2004
Not so long ago, a detective novel set in a far-off capital was something of an anomaly. Certainly there were any number of Graham Greene-esque thrillers set in exotic locations, but your basic murder mystery was more often than not firmly rooted in the U.S. Nowadays we routinely find mysteries taking place in Venice, Oslo, Rio and in at least one case, Botswana. Representing the nation of Israel is author Batya Gur, who chronicles the cases of Jerusalem Police Superintendent Michael Ohayon, most recently in The Bethlehem Road Murder. Ohayon is called in to investigate the murder of a beautiful Yemeni girl. Early indications are that the killing might be racially motivated, as the girl was an outspoken ethnic activist, but the plot thickens as the autopsy reveals that she was several months pregnant. The stereotypical Western view of the Middle East is that the tension is primarily between Arab and Jew, but in Gur's Jerusalem, the friction also encompasses black against white, neighbor against neighbor, and everybody against the cops (even, at times, other cops). The Bethlehem Road Murder works reasonably well as a mystery novel, although a dollop of good luck is required over and above the investigative talents of the police. That said, where the book really shines is in its portrayal of a city that, although it appears almost nightly on television news, remains largely unknown (and perhaps unknowable) to the Western eye.