Murder Under the Bridge: A Palestine Mystery
Political intrigue is a great backdrop for a mystery. Look at The Manchurian Candidate, The Third Man or any of Henning Mankell’s wonderful Wallander mysteries. A murder can highlight the struggles for power, the needs of the many versus the needs of the few, and the ways people hurt each other at both the micro and macro levels. If they are written well. If they aren’t, the work feels something like Murder Under the Bridge by Kate Raphael.
Set in modern day Israel and the Occupied Territories, Murder Under the Bridge opens with the death of a young woman found in a field near the wall between the two countries. Rania, a Palestinian police officer, and Chloe, an American peace activist, work together (or in parallel) to solve the case, which winds along both sides of the wall through various political ideologies and into human trafficking and war crimes. One of the most important aspects of a good mystery is that all of the pieces have to be put on the table, and then put together. The complexity of the crime is inverse to the number of subplots.
If the victim dies in a locked room from a bee sting when they aren’t allergic to bees, confining all of the players to a big country house focuses the narrative enough to allow the reader to follow the plot twists. When it takes five pages to get from one side of the city to the other, the crime can’t have too many twists, or the reader gets lost. Murder Under the Bridge falls into the second category. An unfamiliar setting, new characters, and a complicated murder with at least fifteen named characters present too many strands for Raphael to weave together coherently. There is not even time for an ending.
I wish Raphael had focused solely on Chloe, the character she cares the most about. Her scenes are dynamic, interesting, and fleshed out. As an outsider, Chloe would be a good introduction to the setting. Not one of the other characters does anything special, exciting, or interesting; everyone starts out as a cliché and ends the same way.
The scenes with Rania are rushed and poorly drawn. When the Israeli police officer was introduced as Rania’s partner, I was hoping that the narrative would focus on them and use their similarities as way for each of them—both very bigoted characters—to evolve. Instead, the longest, most lovingly written scene is of graphic sex that is only tangentially related to the murder. The discussion of finding the dead body is only half as detailed.
Perhaps a good mystery is hidden in this book. Right now, it’s stuck under the layers of useless detail, pointless scenes, and cliché.