I have so many thoughts about A Brief History of Seven Killings, but not many of them are positive. The novel is based around an assassination attempt on Bob Marley in 1976, the reasons behind the attempt, and the ramifications for 20 years later. It is about political skullduggery and the drug wars.
The novel begins days before an election in Jamaica. The political parties in the country have connections with gangs running specific areas of Kingston, and the areas of the city belonging to the wrong party get no services. So, an election is an excuse for an outbreak of violence.
Bob Marley, though, has been working with the dons of the two biggest gangs to bring about a peace concert. The CIA is worried about Jamaica turning communist if the JPL party is elected. One of the first narrators is the ghost of a politician who has already been killed in the battle for power. Out of what seems to be chaos comes Josey Wales, an enforcer for one of the gangs, who is more interested in getting involved with Columbian drug dealers than in following his gang’s agenda. The price for allowing him an in with Medellin—kill Bob Marley.
Although this beginning results in the flood of cocaine and crack into U. S. cities, I expected this novel to fit together more cleanly, a bit like Leif GW Persson’s trilogy about the assassination of a Swedish prime minister. It was much messier than that.
The novel was written from the points of view of many characters, most of whom are thugs. Much of the narrative is in Jamaican slang and a little hard to understand. All but one of the characters are abhorrent, and I had great difficulty reading the novel even though I was interested to see what would happen. The novel is brutal, the thoughts and conversations of most of its characters disgusting, and loaded with sexism. A lot more people are killed than seven (in fact, I wasn’t even completely sure which seven the title referred to), and at almost 700 pages, the novel is anything but brief. (I believe the title is meant ironically.) Occasionally, when reading some character’s narratives, especially the heroine addicts, I felt like screaming.
One Goodreads reviewer said the novel is not for the faint of heart. I am not generally squeamish, but I found the novel an agony to read, even though its subject matter is interesting. This novel was the 2015 winner of the Booker Prize. I am fairly sure that when it comes time for my article about which book I would have chosen, this won’t be it.