A Brief History of Seven Killings

A Brief History of Seven Killings

A Novel

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


“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

From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes one of the year’s most anticipated novels, a lyrical, masterfully written epic that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s. 

On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert, gunmen stormed his house, machine guns blazing. The attack nearly killed the Reggae superstar, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Marley would go on to perform at the free concert on December 5, but he left the country the next day, not to return for two years.

Deftly spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of characters—assassins, journalists, drug dealers, and even ghosts—A Brief History of Seven Killings is the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the ‘70s, to the crack wars in ‘80s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the ‘90s. Brilliantly inventive and stunningly ambitious, this novel is a revealing modern epic that will secure Marlon James’ place among the great literary talents of his generation.

A Brief History of Seven Killings

A Brief History of Seven Killings

Marlon James


“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

“[A] tour de force… [an] audacious, demanding, inventive literary work.”
Wall Street Journal

“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

“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
“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
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

“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 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)

“James is masterful at inhabiting a variety of voices and dialects, and he writes unflinchingly about the violence, drug-fueled and coldblooded, that runs through [Jamaica’s] ghettos…James’ fiction thus far is forming a remarkable portrait of Jamaica in the 19th and 20th centuries.”
Kirkus Reviews 

Praise for The Book of Night Women

“James has conducted an experiment in how to write the unspeakable—even the unthinkable. And the results of that experiment are an undeniable success.” 
The New York Times Book Review

“The narrative voice is so assured and the descriptions so detailed and believable that one can’t help being engaged. This is a book to love . . . and it deserves to be read.” 
Chicago Tribune

The Book of Night Women is not merely a historical novel. . . . It is a canticle of love and hate.” 
Los Angeles Times

“A very nearly perfect work: an exquisite blend of form and content.”
The Globe and Mail


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



A Brief History of Seven Killings went on sale last week with huge media attention, beginning with Michiko Kakutani’s flat-out rave review in the New York Times, where she praised that A… Read more >