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Murder Under the Fig Tree: A Palestine Mystery


Murder Under the Fig Tree: A Palestine Mystery

It’s March 2006. Chloe Rubin is back in San Francisco, having been jailed and deported from Israel the year before. Now she has a problem far graver than reaching middle age (41): Her friend, Palestinian Detective Rania Bakara, is capriciously held in an Israeli prison on unspecified charges. Rania learns that Israeli “interrogation methods can sometimes be unpleasant” after suffering broken ribs.

Chloe books a flight to Israel, not considering that she won’t be allowed to enter. At passport control, she speaks the little Hebrew she learned in the States from her mother and prominently displays a Star of David necklace. The computer gods have omitted reference to her expulsion.

Rekindling a romance with Tina, Chloe later visits jailed Rania. Chloe had developed friendships and now pulls strings. Perhaps pulling them in a tug-of-war gets Rania released. More likely, freedom comes with a few strings attached. The “only woman detective in the northern West Bank” has lost her job due to imprisonment and is asked to lead --- without pay --- a morality task force, teaching women proper subservience to their husbands.

"The big reveal caught me by surprise, earning respect for a phenomenally talented author."

Chloe encounters Daoud, who “seemed to have lived in brighter colors than anyone around him.” Daoud dons flamboyant garb and entertains at a West Jerusalem club owned by an Israeli, a nightspot frequented by soldiers who are there ostensibly to keep rowdies from causing trouble. “Most people who go to Adloyada are gay.” And one of those soldiers is seen confronting Daoud near his home shortly before Daoud is murdered --- under a fig tree.

The stage is set for an intriguing mystery. Although Chloe is the protagonist, Rania takes the lead. She juggles life as a mother, wife, and an unemployed cop who can’t help but investigate what appears to be an Israeli soldier killing a Palestinian. Without a police badge, Rania can no longer cross into Israel. Chloe has similar difficulties when entering the West Bank and then returning to Israel proper. Imagine visiting Tijuana for real Mexican cuisine and trying to return to the States without a passport.

This becomes a police procedural, as Rania tracks each clue with the tenacity of a bloodhound. She learns that Daoud was gay and asks Chloe to define what that means. Rania says, “But we don’t have people like that in Palestine.” This revelation compounds the investigation. Is it a hate crime, or a lovers’ quarrel? And how can Rania mention Raoud’s orientation to family members?

The big reveal caught me by surprise, earning respect for a phenomenally talented author.

Kate Jessica Raphael is a San Francisco Bay Area writer, feminist, gay activist and radio journalist. She knows well her Palestine Mystery series setting. Having lived in Palestine for 18 months representing the International Women’s Peace Service, one of those months was spent in an Israeli prison. Raphael subsequently was deported because of her activism. Although MURDER UNDER THE FIG TREE offers rich rewards as a stand-alone, I recommend first reading the series debut, MURDER UNDER THE BRIDGE, which won the 2016 International Publisher Book Award (IPPY) Silver Medal for Mystery.

Reviewed by L. Dean Murphy on September 22, 2017

Murder Under the Fig Tree: A Palestine Mystery
by Kate Jessica Raphael

  • Publication Date: September 19, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: She Writes Press
  • ISBN-10: 1631522744
  • ISBN-13: 9781631522741