Murder Under the Bridge, Mystery Set in Palestine, Debuts Online
Rania is the only female Palestinian police detective in the northern West Bank. She is also the mother of a young son, in a rural community where many feel that mothers should not have such demanding careers. Chloe is a Jewish American dyke with a video camera and a big attitude, anxious to right every wrong caused by the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The two women team up to track down the killer of Nadya, a trafficked Uzbek worker in one of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Their search for truth takes them from checkpoints and prisons to brothels and beaches.
In 2004, I was living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, working with a women’s peace group. One night I was in a taxi with some friends and as we drove on a Palestinian dirt road passing under an Israeli superhighway, I told my friend, “This would be a great place for a mystery to begin.” On my next break, I started writing, creating characters and developing a story.
I’ve been an avid mystery reader for many years, and I especially like using them to learn about cultures or time periods I don’t know that much about. The genre is well-suited to exploring social issues in an engaging way. I was intrigued by the idea of using popular culture to help people understand a conflict that is portrayed in the media as complex and intractable. I wanted to show the lives behind the headlines.
The book has now been through four drafts, quite a number of people have helped me by reading it and giving feedback and suggestions, I had editing help from a wonderful editor and an agent who was interested in it for a while. I have gotten some very nice comments from publishers, but always with the inevitable “but” – not appropriate for our list, can’t adequately market it at this time …
A little while ago, I started thinking about the fact that a lot of the early detective novels were originally published in serial form. When I first moved to the San Francisco area, Armistead Maupin’s ‘Tales of the City’ was running as a daily newspaper column. I remember how I would look forward to it every day. The serial really lends itself to the mystery genre. You try to end each installment on a cliff-hanger of some kind. Publishing on the internet also allows me to augment the text with photos, maps and videos to enhance the reading experience.
Chapter 1 – Roadblock at Azzawiya Bridge
“Ya tik alaafia,” Captain Mustafa commanded Rania’s attention as soon as she entered the station. He used the greeting for someone who is working, so she tore her eyes from the coffee pot bubbling enticingly in the corner.
Every day, Rania told herself she would get up early enough to make an Arabic coffee before she left the house. But every morning when her alarm rang at half past five, she shut it off and did not get up until six. Then she was always rushing to reach the roadblock at Qarawat bani Hassan for the bus to Yasouf, where she would cross the roadblock and transfer to the other bus that would be waiting to take her to the small police headquarters at Salfit.
When she had first moved with her husband, Bassam, to his family’s compound in Mas’ha village, it had taken less than half an hour to reach Salfit. Since the Intifada, with the Israelis restricting Palestinian movement to a crawl, she often suggested they rent a little house in Salfit, for them and Khaled. But Bassam said he needed to keep a daily watch on his olive groves, adjacent to the Israeli settlement which was always trying to gobble up more land. She suspected he also did not want to sacrifice his place as the favored oldest son, center of his mother’s world, and let one of his brothers supplant him as head of the family.
Captain Mustafa cleared his throat. Suddenly self-conscious, Rania removed her head scarf. As soon as she did, the situation felt more comfortable. The men were still learning to accept her as a colleague. Traditionally, women were nurses, engineers and teachers, more recently a few were doctors. Women as police detectives was a new concept, which would take getting used to. Wearing the hijab made the men she worked with feel like they were talking to one of their sisters or cousins; taking it off made it possible for them to treat her like an equal. To her it was not important. Her belief in God, such as it was, did not rise or fall with her head covering. Growing up in Aida Camp, outside Bethlehem, few of the women she knew had worn it. Now she wore it diligently in the village and on the roads, where she might run into someone who knew Bassam and his family. In the city, and among men with whom she had a professional relationship, she took it off. Sometimes she told her friends, “I think more clearly without something between my brain and the sun,” but in fact, she felt the same, whether she was wearing it or not.
“There is a situation in Azzawiya,” said Captain Mustafa.
“What kind of situation?” asked Rania.
“One requiring great tact.”
Rania knew the captain well enough to take this as a warning, not a compliment. She was not known for her tact. There must be some other reason why he was sending her.
“A car is abandoned on top of the bridge,” Captain Mustafa said. Rania waited. An abandoned car on an Israeli road was not something the Palestinian police would normally concern themselves with. “The Yahud say that the car is stolen,” he continued. “The jesh have closed the road under the bridge and no one can pass on foot or by car.”
Rania understood now why she was being sent on this errand. If the Israeli army had closed the road between Mas’ha and Azzawiya, it would be necessary to find another way to approach, and she knew the land. She would also know many of the people who would be gathered on each side by now, waiting to see when they would be allowed to go. She would be able to tell at a glance if there was someone who did not belong there, whose actions should be scrutinized. A woman could surreptitiously gather information in such a situation, while a Palestinian man, even a policeman, who was moving around and asking questions would be perceived as a threat and treated as a suspect by the Israeli authorities. She tied the scarf around her hair again, grabbed her purse and removed a bag of supplies from her desk drawer.
“Tread lightly,” Captain Mustafa told her.
Rania didn’t bristle at the caution. It was his job to remind her of things she was likely to forget. On the other hand, she doubted his admonition would remain in her mind for more than thirty seconds once she left police headquarters.
She cast a longing look at the coffee pot on her way out.
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