Book Review: “A Brief History of Seven Killings” by Marlon James

Book Review:  A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Anthony Miller, Reporter


“…the dead never stop talking and sometimes the living hear.” – A Brief History of Seven Killings Ch. 1

On Dec. 3, 1976, shortly before the Jamaican general election, Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert. Two days before the concert, gunmen stormed Marley’s house, and in the firefight that ensued Marley, his wife, and manager were nearly killed, and several others were injured. The seven gunmen were never identified, and rumors have raged for decades about the event. Jamaican author Marlon James’s book A Brief History of Seven Killings takes place in the time before, during, and after the shooting. It follows an expansive cast of characters (both alive and dead) and their stories as they all find themselves connected in some way to the event.

The first that grabbed me about this book was the way it was written, both in terms of the plot and the actual writing style. The characters are one of the best parts of the novel. Because of the books inner monologue writing style, you get to know all about the characters you’re following, not just their personalities, but their beliefs (both political and religious) and how they make it by in the world. The characters range wildly from people like one of Marley’s fans just trying to get by in Jamaica in the dangerous times going up to and after the shooting, to the twisted and depressing lives of the shooters themselves. The way the chapter is written changes wildly from character to character. Each character has their own voice, and it comes through incredibly clear in the text. This makes each chapter interesting and engaging to read, and it keeps the book’s pace up before it’s never on one writing style for too long. Not only is the writing style of the novel interesting, the actual plot is gripping as well.

The novel’s plot is essentially a big mystery, as you (the reader) try to piece together all of the novel’s plotlines and character to find out just what happened in the time before and after the shooting. The character it follows range from ghosts to criminal leaders to government agents, and the plot spans decades. The scope of the story is impressive, and it never falters under its own weight. This is one of the few books in recent memory i’ve had to read while taking notes of what was going on as I tried to piece together everything that was going on, although you could very well read the book without notes. The book never drags for a single page of it’s 600-ish page runtime, and I found myself reading large chunks of the book at a time because it was just so hard to put down. The book deals with some pretty heavy themes that it dances with effortlessly.

Marlon James is a Jamaican author who was born in 1970 to two police officers, and you can tell James (and/or his parents) had personal experiences with racism and corruption. James’ anti-racism message hits hard, as we’re shown firsthand how racism can destroy lives and tear entire countries apart. The novel shows just how racism affects everyone and why it’s such a poisonous thing. The novel also centers around how anyone can be corrupted into doing evil, as we watch how certain characters with promising futures are corrupted into doing evil. This novel is a gripping and powerful experience and comes highly recommended.