I’m always looking for a good spot in which to kill someone. Still, as a crime writer, I rarely have to ask about potential locations for a good murder. People are keen to suggest that the blood be spilled on their doorstep.
Most recently, it was a pastor and his wife.
To be fair, they actually said I ought to have my Palestinian detective Omar Yussef visit their church on the top of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, where I live. But when I noted admiringly that it’d be a great place for a murder, they nodded and smiled in agreement.
Last week I visited the Augusta Victoria Compound on the Mount of Olives as a guest of the delightful Ulrike Wohlrab and her husband, Michael, the pastor of the Church of the Ascension. The compound, which was built to accommodate Kaiser Wilhelm II’s visit to Jerusalem in 1898 and named after his wife, is home to the second-biggest hospital in East Jerusalem, as well as Michael’s church. It’s also a meeting place for Germans in the city.
The idea behind my visit was for me to give my own little sermon on the mount – a talk about my Omar Yussef crime novels, which have been particularly well-received in Germany. But the discussion soon turned to murder…
“Omar Yussef hasn’t been to Jerusalem yet,” Michael said. “He ought to come here to the Augusta Victoria.”
It’s true that Omar has so far solved mysteries in Bethlehem, Gaza, Nablus and (coming in February) New York. My intention is for him to hit Jerusalem next and Augusta Victoria is a real center of the Palestinian community.
The symbolism of the Mount of Olives would be hard to resist as a setting for an Omar Yussef Mystery. Starting at the far end of the ridge, there’s the Mosque of the Ascension, a simple structure of Crusader origin with (so it’s said) the imprint of Jesus’s last footprint in the stone from which he launched off over Bethany en route for his seat at God’s right hand. (It’s a mosque because, though Jesus’s ascension isn’t mentioned in the Koran, Muslims believe in it. The Crusader building was improved upon in Saladin’s time by some of his followers.)
Moving along the hill with the golden Dome of the Rock across the valley on your left, you reach the Church of the Ascension (the Russian Orthodox version) with its tall slim tower and nuns bound in all-black wimples.
Next is the German Protestant church, which has some of the most striking mosaics you’ll ever see – featuring a massive Kaiser Wili on the ceiling, of course. Keep going and with only a slight dip in the road you’re onto Mount Scopus and the Hebrew University. (I’ll have to leave that out of my mystery novel. Batya Gur’s already been there.)
I always warn people that inclusion in my books may not work out so well for them. One of my friends, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem who runs a book shop, asked me over coffee a while back if he could be a character in one of my novels.
“Sure, but I may have to kill you,” I said.
“Okay. Just make it quick,” he replied.
I can’t say yet quite how the German pastor and his wife will feature in my Omar Yussef series. I must confess that I don’t think I’ll have the heart to kill them. They’re too nice.
I must be going soft.
(I posted this on International Crime Authors Reality Check, a joint blog I write with Christopher G. Moore, Barbara Nadel, and Colin Cotterill. Check it out.)