BookBrowse Reviews A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon Jones

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

A Brief History of Seven Killings

by Marlon Jones

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon Jones X
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon Jones
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2014, 704 pages

    Sep 2015, 784 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
Buy This Book

About this Book



A lyrical, inventive and stunningly ambitious epic that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s.

Look beyond the headlines. What do you see? Clarity of vision can rarely be gained by a news clip, however affecting it might be. To get at the truth, one needs to dig deeper and appreciate nuance. Marlon James' mesmerizing A Brief History of Seven Killings, does just that. It's a brilliant exploration of the factors behind a singular snapshot of time in December 1976: the assassination attempt on reggae star and Jamaican sensation, Bob Marley.

Narrated from the viewpoint of an expansive cast of characters - from Kingston ganglords, writers, CIA operatives, and more - the novel pulls back the curtain and presents the reader with a kaleidoscopic picture of Jamaica in the '70s. It also tracks down the seven primary players involved in the crime, years down the line, all the way to the United States where many of them immigrated. Among the many memorable characters are Josey Wales and Papa-Lo (rival gang lords) and Nina Burgess, who will resurface over and over again as she attempts to flee a troubled past and reinvent herself every time.

"I hate politics," Nina says of her life, clinging on to the middle class in Kingston, "I hate that just because I live here I'm supposed to live politics. And there's nothing you can do. If you don't live politics, politics will live you." It is a telling synthesis of life in a Kingston beset by extreme gang violence, with factions owing allegiance to Jamaica's opposing parties fighting for territorial power of the capital city: the JLP (Jamaica Labor Party) and the PNP (People's National Party). Who were the real manipulators behind the puppet strings? Even if the locals are lead to believe that the "United States government does not support or condone any illegal or disruptive action of any kind in sovereign territories that are her neighbors," those words fool no one. The left-leaning PNP, supposedly friendly with Cuba, is offset by American fueling of the more conservative JLP. James captures the political tension succinctly: "The general election is in two weeks. The CIA is squatting on the city, its lumpy ass leaving the sweat print of the Cold War." Bob Marley, widely known as a PNP sympathizer, was a ready target and an easy way to focus international attention on the country's chaos. Seven Killings eventually moves from the Jamaica of the '70s to the United States of the '80s and '90s, where the Kingston gang lords moved to set up notorious drug gangs (see Beyond the Book.)

Seven Killings is a rich fictional historical account of the violent underbelly of a country's politics. Many of the characters speak in Jamaican patois, which makes for slow reading at least initially: "First they drive we out of the jobs we get only four years before. Then them two boy start drive we out of town, like we is varmint and they is Wyatt Earp." Seven Killings is not for readers who shy away from violence, bullets ring out almost every few pages. But the patient reader is rewarded with, among other things, loads of humor and sparkling dialog.

One of the many strengths of Seven Killings is its resolute insistence on authenticity. It is obvious that James has no patience for tired cliches about Jamaica (you won't find the word mon here, except as ironic device). It's perhaps one of the reasons the narrative is equipped with such a diversity of voices and points of view. Piece them all together and you get something entirely breathtaking and maybe, just maybe, a glimpse of truth. Sure, there are more than seven killings here. And this novel definitely isn't brief. There are also times when one needs a break from the chorus of voices, each competing for your attention. Nevertheless, A Brief History Of Seven Killings is an astounding achievement. Think Jamaica is all turquoise water beaches and cheery pastel-colored bungalows? Well, think again.

Reviewed by Poornima Apte

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in November 2014, and has been updated for the October 2015 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The Shower Posse


Read-alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked A Brief History of Seven Killings, try these:

  • See What I Have Done jacket

    See What I Have Done

    by Sarah Schmidt

    Published 2018

    About this book

    In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.

  • Augustown jacket


    by Kei Miller

    Published 2018

    About this book

    More by this author

    In the wake of Marlon James's Man Booker Prize–winning A Brief History of Seven Killings, Augustown - set in the backlands of Jamaica - is a magical and haunting novel of one woman's struggle to rise above the brutal vicissitudes of history, race, class, collective memory, violence, and myth.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search read-alikes again
How we choose readalikes

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Bad Cree
    Bad Cree
    by Jessica Johns
    Jessica Johns' debut novel Bad Cree was inspired by her desire to disprove the idea, suggested by an...
  • Book Jacket: The Terraformers
    The Terraformers
    by Annalee Newitz
    Sask-E is a planet that Verdance, a major terraforming company, has big plans for. Their business is...
  • Book Jacket: The Light Pirate
    The Light Pirate
    by Lily Brooks-Dalton
    The lynchpin of The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton, a novel split into four parts, is the main ...
  • Book Jacket: The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On
    The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On
    by Franny Choi
    Calamity can cohabit with joy, and you and I have, on some plane, accepted that absurd reality. We ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Love of My Life
by Rosie Walsh
An up-all-night love story wrapped in a mystery from the New York Times bestselling author of Ghosted.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    by Wendell Steavenson

    A young woman struggles to break free of her upper-class upbringing amid the whirlwind years of the sexual revolution.

  • Book Jacket

    The Critic's Daughter
    by Priscilla Gilman

    An exquisitely rendered portrait of a unique father-daughter relationship and a moving memoir of family and identity.

Book Club Giveaway!
Win French Braid

French Braid
by Anne Tyler

From the beloved Pulitzer Prize–winning author, a joyful journey deep into one Baltimore family's foibles.



Solve this clue:

It's A G T Me

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.