A Brief History of Seven Killings (James)

The first thing I want to say about this almost 700-page book is that when it was over, I wanted to turn back to the beginning and start again. The second thing that came to me was that I wondered how long I’ll have to wait (or should I say “see and wait”?) for James’ 4th novel. This, his third, and The Book of Night Women, his second, are just astonishing. I consider myself fairly well-read, and James does things in these two books that I’ve simply not encountered elsewhere. His creation of character and place are so vivid that I am instantly transported. His dialogue sings. His use of research is fluid and necessary. And after all of these pages, I just want to know more – about the people he created, about Bob Marley, about the CIA and its involvement with Jamaica, about Jamaica. I was half-hoping to find a suggested reading list at the end.

One of the things that James, in his Acknowledgments, says he struggled with is the standard question: Whose story is this? I love the advice he got and the decision he made. It’s everyone’s story, and it takes James almost 4 pages to list his cast of characters. Each section, always interconnected, nevertheless read like its own short story. To be able to create so many dynamic characters, some of whom are less than likable? Wow.

There is a great scene in Steve Martin’s movie Roxanne about genius. He means it sarcastically, but I really wish I could have been there when James thought of the idea for this novel. To not only have such an epic notion, but then to execute in such fine and compelling detail (as an example, the dropped orange juice haunts me) – as you can probably tell, this book just blew me away.

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