A Brief History of Seven Killings

A Brief History of Seven Killings

A Novel

Additional Formats
  • Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781594486005
  • 704 Pages
  • Riverhead Books
  • Adult


Winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize

A recipient of the 2015 American Book Award

One of the Top 10 Books of 2014 – Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

A New York Times Book Review Notable Book

Named a best book of the year by:
The New York Times
Chicago Tribune
The Washington Post
The Boston Globe
The Huffington Post
The Seattle Times
The Houston Chronicle
Publishers Weekly
Library Journal
BuzzFeed Books
Kansas City Star
L Magazine 

From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes a “musical, electric, fantastically profane” (The New York Times) epic that explores the tumultuous world of Jamaica over the past three decades.

In A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James combines brilliant storytelling with his unrivaled skills of characterization and meticulous eye for detail to forge an enthralling novel of dazzling ambition and scope.

On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert to ease political tensions in Kingston, seven gunmen stormed the singer’s house, machine guns blazing. The attack wounded Marley, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Little was officially released about the gunmen, but much has been whispered, gossiped and sung about in the streets of West Kingston. Rumors abound regarding the assassins’ fates, and there are suspicions  that the attack was politically motivated.

A Brief History of Seven Killings delves deep into that dangerous and unstable time in Jamaica’s history and beyond. James deftly chronicles the lives of a host of unforgettable characters – gunmen, drug dealers, one-night stands, CIA agents,  even ghosts – over the course of thirty years as they roam the streets of 1970s Kingston, dominate the crack houses of 1980s New York, and ultimately reemerge into the radically altered Jamaica of the 1990s. Along the way, they learn that evil does indeed cast long shadows, that justice and retribution are inextricably linked, and that no one can truly escape his fate.

Gripping and inventive, shocking and irresistible, A Brief History of Seven Killings is a mesmerizing modern classic of power, mystery, and insight.
A Brief History of Seven Killings

A Brief History of Seven Killings

Marlon James


Anisfield-Wolf Book Award – winner
Man Booker Prize – winner
Minnesota Book Award – winner
National Book Critics Circle Awards – finalist


“It will come to be seen as a classic of our times…that’s what judges of the prestigious Man Booker Prize have said about this year’s winner.”
“An astonishing portrait of the politics of everyday life…Just as he is sharply aware of the nuances of their voices, James has the confidence not to deny his characters their humanity by turning them into moral exemplars, nor paper over the infected wounds that score across the country by suggesting that the loveliness of some of its territory makes up for the savage effects of poverty.”
The Washington Post
“A dark, challenging, and violent book that’s also remarkably funny, A Brief History of Seven Killings appears to have been an easy choice for the judges, who voted unanimously to award it the [Booker] prize in a deliberation which lasted less than two hours.
The New Republic
“How to describe Marlon James’s monumental new novel A Brief History of Seven Killings? It’s like a Tarantino remake of The Harder They Come but with a soundtrack by Bob Marley and a script by Oliver Stone and William Faulkner, with maybe a little creative boost from some primo ganja. It’s epic in every sense of that word: sweeping, mythic, over-the-top, colossal and dizzyingly complex. It’s also raw, dense, violent, scalding, darkly comic, exhilarating and exhausting—a testament to Mr. James’s vaulting ambition and prodigious talent.”
The New York Times
“This is the boldest of novels, and the boldest of Booker-winning novels, thanks to a jury bold enough to pick it.”
The Independent
“[A] tour de force… [an] audacious, demanding, inventive literary work.”
Wall Street Journal
“An extraordinary book… [It was] very exciting, very violent, full of swearing. It was a book we didn’t actually have any difficulty deciding on – it was a unanimous decision, a little bit to our surprise. … The call was easy but the distance was small…There are many, many voices in the book and it just kept on coming, it kept on doing what it was doing. … There is an excitement right from the beginning of this book. A lot of it is very, very funny, a lot of it very human.”
Michael Wood, Chair of the Judges for the 2015 Man Booker Prize

“Thrilling, ambitious…Both intense and epic.”
Los Angeles Times

“Nothing short of awe-inspiring.”
Entertainment Weekly

“A prismatic story of gang violence and Cold War politics in a turbulent post-independence Jamaica.”
The New Yorker
“Marlon James’ latest novel is a Jamaican symphony, a sea of distinct and unforgettable voices.”
St. Paul Pioneer Press

“Exploding with violence and seething with arousal, the third novel by Marlon James cuts a swath across recent Jamaican history…This compelling, not-so-brief history brings off a social portrait worthy of Diego Rivera, antic and engagé, a fascinating tangle of the naked and the dead.”
The Washington Post

“[Marlon James] is a virtuoso …[the novel is] an epic of postcolonial fallout, in Jamaica and elsewhere, and America’s participation in that history. …the book is not only persuasive but tragic, though in its polyphony and scope it’s more than that….It makes its own kind of music, not like Marley’s, but like the tumult he couldn’t stop.”
New York Times Book Review
“An ambitious and loquacious exploration of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in December 1976. It also tells the story of 1970s Jamaica through a polyphonous chain of ‘voices’ (ghosts, Rastas and gangstas), juxtaposing reggae with street violence. James takes risks that none of his rivals dare… [an] intoxicatingly prolix narrative.”
The Guardian

“Brilliantly executed… The novel makes no compromises, but is cruelly and consummately a work of art.”
The Minneapolis Star Tribune

“An excellent new work of historical fiction … part crime thriller, part oral history, part stream-of-consciousness monologue.”
Rolling Stone 

“An impressive feat of storytelling: raw, uncompromising, panoramic yet meticulously detailed. The Jamaica portrayed here is one many people have heard songs about but have never seen rendered in such arresting specificity—and if they have, only briefly.”
Chicago Tribune
Marlon James’s epic docu-novel about Jamaica in the throes of political upheaval is a thrilling…exegesis on the idea of island history itself James has written a dangerous book, one full of lore and whispers and history… [a] great book… James nibbles at theories of who did what and why, and scripts Marley’s quest for revenge with the pace of a thriller. His achievement, however, goes far beyond opening up this terrible moment in the life of a great musician. He gives us the streets, the people, especially the desperate, the Jamaicans whom Marley exhorted to: ‘Open your eyes and look within:/ Are you satisfied with the life your living?”
The Boston Globe

“I highly recommend you pick [A Brief History of Seven Killings] up. As a book of many narrators, this novel reminds me of Roberto Bolano’s The Savage Detectives.”
—NPR, All Things Considered 

“A strange and wonderful novel…Mr. James’s chronicle of late 20th-century Jamaican politics and gang wars manages consistently to shock and mesmerise at the same time.”
The Economist

“A sweeping novel that touches on family, friendship, celebrity, art, sexuality, ghetto politics, geopolitics, drug trade, gender, race and more, sending the reader from Jamaica to New York via Miami and Cuba and back.”

“Rendered with virtuosic precision and deep empathy.”
“The book is exasperating and confusing, raw and violent, and overrun with wicked, empty people. It’s also breathtaking, daring, and once you finally start sorting things out as the book ends, a bit intoxicating…Few writers take such gambles. Fewer still can pull them off.”
—Chicago Tribune
“Tumultuous and overwhelming, A Brief History of Seven Killings would have been hard to overlook in any case…A testament not only to James’s prodigiously versatile writing but also to his awareness that an undaunted, self-made character is crucial to helping his reader navigate A Brief History of Seven Killings’s dark heart.
The Atlantic
“A big powerhouse of a book, confident and fast-paced, as page-turning as any supermarket-aisle thriller. It’s time to read it.”
“This ambitious novel requires an ambitious reader… The sheer number of characters, the Caribbean slang, and the gonzo view of violence and corruption are dizzying but nothing short of awe-inspiring.”
Entertainment Weekly

“The way James uses language is amazing….Vigorous, intricate and captivating, A Brief History of Seven Killings is hard to put down.”
“Thrilling, ambitious…Both intense and epic.”
Los Angeles Times
“Marlon James’s epic and dizzying third novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings… announces Marlon James as a writer in the same league as Salman Rushdie, Reinaldo Arenas, and others who’ve risked their skin to get at the truth.”
“This ambitious novel, which spans decades but centers on Kingston, Jamaica, in the nineteen-seventies, is a complex portrait of a society ruled by violence. … Gang leaders and their underlings, journalists and spooks, ordinary Jamaicans struggling to stay alive form a kind of chorus flooding the novel with a rich abundance of detail.”
The New Yorker

“James’s masterful novel radiates; [it’s] a character-driven tale that takes place in a maelstrom of guns, drugs and politics.”

“Technically astounding… a wildly ambitious and brilliant book…this stunning counterfactual fiction evokes both the pungency of Faulkner’s Southern gothic Yoknapatawpha novels and the wild tabloid noir of James Ellroy’s ‘White Jazz’…[Marlon] James raises fiction’s ante throughout this bravura novel.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Like a capacious 19th-century novel crossed with a paranoid Don DeLillo conspiracy-theory thriller…the book rewards time spent, bringing a complex perspective on violence, corruption, and the untidiness of humanity to vivid life and astonishing detail. It makes you want to rush out and read everything else James has written.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“A gripping tale in which music, drugs, sex, and violence collide with explosive results.”
“An exuberant, Balzacian novel by self-described ‘post-post colonialist’ writer who is at ease with several canons, traditions, and dialects. You’ll also find a political novel on the level of Don DeLillo. It’s the rare ‘revelation’ that will easily outlive its hype-cycle.”
— Flavorwire
“A dazzling fictional representation of Jamaica.”

A Brief History of Seven Killings is an amazing novel of power, corruption and lies. I can’t think of a better one I’ve read this century.”
– Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting

“There’s a crowd of brilliant young Americo-Caribbean writers coming to the table these days, and Marlon James is not just among the best of them, he’s among the best of all the young writers, period. He knows whereof he speaks, and he speaks with power and clarity. This novel cracks open a world that needs to be known. It has epic reach and achieves it. It’s scary and lyrically beautiful – you’ll want to read whole pages aloud to strangers.”
—Russell Banks

A Brief History of Seven Killings is a masterpiece. Hinged around the 1976 assassination attempt on Bob Marley in Kingston, this massive poetic novel is a gripping, riveting read. Intuitively original, deeply erudite and intelligent, told from multiple points of view, it unravels the lethal world of mid-1970s Jamaican politics and its decades-long consequences in the deadly yardie world of crack-dealing. Magnificent.”
—Chris Salewicz, author of Bob Marley: The Untold Story

“Upon finishing, the reader will have completed an indispensable and essential history of Jamaica’s troubled years. This novel should be required reading.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Stunning… A brilliant novel, highly recommended; one of those big, rich, magisterial works that lets us into a world we really don’t know.”
Library Journal (starred review)


Dear Reader Letter

Dear Reader,

It’s clear from the first pages of A Brief History of Seven Killings thatMarlon James has written a bold and ambitious novel — a literary triumph, in fact. The New York Times calls it “epic in every sense of that word: sweeping, mythic, over-the-top, colossal and dizzyingly complex. It’s also raw, dense, violent, scalding, darkly comic, exhilarating and exhausting — a testament to Mr. James’s vaulting ambition and prodigious talent.”

What also becomes obvious is that it’s so much more than that.

In A Brief History of Seven Killings, James takes the reader on an astonishing journey into the heart and soul of Jamaica and its people, framing the novel around an actual event: the December 1976 attempted assassination of reggae superstar Bob Marley and his family by seven gunmen. The attack wounded (but didn’t kill) Marley, his wife, and his manager. Little has ever been officially released about what happened all those years ago, though much has been whispered about, and rumors regarding what really happened circulate to this day.

James uses this incident to spin his own extraordinary story and characters, as both the guilty and the innocent come to terms with what they saw, what they did, and how they reacted. The novel spans decades, countries and cultures and is written in a chorus of voices, everything from Jamaican street language to the Queen’s English to CIA-speak.

The result is a brilliant novel that’s also an enthralling mystery, a compelling political thriller, and a provocative alternative history – and a book that will make you reconsider what you think you know about the last thirty years.

It is, in every sense of the word, unforgettable.

–Jake Morrissey



Marlon James can add yet another win to his long list of awards for his “tour-de-force (The Wall Street Journal), “awe-inspiring” (Entertainment Weekly) and “epic” (The New York Times)… Read more >


HBO has optioned television rights to Marlon James’ award-winning Riverhead novel A Brief History of Seven Killings, which will be made into a TV series. James will be adapting his novel for… Read more >


The longlists for the 2015 PEN Literary Awards were announced this week and feature 8 authors and their books published by Penguin Publishing Group imprints, as follows: PEN/Robert W. Bingham… Read more >

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