Many readers are trying to get context for what’s going on in Jerusalem and Palestine. Novels can give social and cultural insight into ancient (and modern) disputes beyond the strife of war and conflict.

The Walls of Jericho by Jon Land

This is a thriller that proves that  the stereotypical “strife in the Middle East” can be woven into highly entertaining crime fiction. The first in the series about a pair of detectives (one Israeli and one Palestinian American) who are assigned to work together to catch a serial killer. Danielle Barnea is an Israel Security Agency officer, and works with Ben Kamal to unravel the plot that may threaten the Arab-Israeli peace process.

The Samaritan’s Secret by Matt Beynon Rees

Rees keeps the “military maneuvers in the background and [focusses] on ordinary people struggling to live ordinary lives,” according to the New York Times. The hero is a Palestinian teacher, who helps with the investigation of  the theft of a priceless scroll.

Damascus Gate by Robert Stone

This is a mystery that “transcends its genre” and is a “novel of place, securely grounded in the stones of Jerusalem.” Religious radicals (Christian and Jewish) plan to blow up Mosques in Jerusalem, for their own convoluted reasons. Stone ‘s “meditation on belief”….and “suspense all come together is a stunning finale that satisfies on all levels.” Booklist

Martyr’s Crossing by Amy Wilentz

An incident at a Jerusalem checkpoint sparks riots and the soldier and young Palestinian mother are reluctantly pulled into the ensuing chaos. The author is the Jerusalem correspondent for the New Yorker and is “masterful at turning the Israeli/Palestinian predicament like a prism to expose multifaceted viewpoints, leaving the reader with insight into the politics and an overwhelming empathetic vision of the human pain that is part of daily living in this region of the world,” according to Booklist.

Agnes Shanklin, a 40-year-old schoolteacher from Ohio, is still reeling from the tragedies of the Great War and the influenza epidemic. A modest inheritance allows her to take the trip of a lifetime and travel to Egypt and the Holy Land. Arriving just as the Cairo Peace Conference of 1921 begins, Agnes becomes an observer and confident of the historic players – including Winston Churchill and T.E. Lawrence (better known as Lawrence of Arabia) – that will, in the course of a few days, invent the nations of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan.

Best known for her award winning science fiction novels, Russell’s Dreamers of the Day is historical fiction at it’s best – the characters and their actions are believable and the history is made real through the skillful use of period details and atmosphere. “Seeing” the formation of these countries and the divisions of loyalties – many of which have lead directly to issues we still face in the region today – was fascinating and enlightening.

There’s more than history here, though – you will get caught up in Agnes’ personal story, her triumphs and set-backs, her clear-eyed perspective as she and her little dog Rosie walk in history’s shadow.