Short Takes: Book reviews, in brief


A Brief History of Seven Killings

Marlon James, Riverhead, 688 pages

“A Brief History of Seven Killings” is historical novel based on real events. James’ epic, multifaceted story revolves around Rasta reggae superstar Bob Marley and the failed assassination attempt in December 1976, just two days before he planned to play – and remarkably, did – a Smile Jamaica concert in Kingston meant to ease political tensions in the island nation. Those tensions run through every page of this sprawling saga that carries the story of Marley’s would-be killers to Miami and New York in the early 1990s and dazzlingly employs more than a dozen narrators who tell their own versions of events.

The book begins with a four-page list of 76 characters. The reader needs to refer to it frequently. Jamaica is wracked by drug-fueled gun battles among the supporters of the left-leaning People’s National Party, led by Prime Minister Michael Manley, and the center-right Jamaican Labor Party of former music industry executive (and later prime minister) Edward Seaga. The book examines CIA efforts to destabilize Manley’s government, seen as drifting close to Fidel Castro’s Cuba. “Seven Killings” is James’ third and most ambitious novel. He’s skilled at weaving pop culture into his narrative.

Tribune News Service

Die Again

Tess Gerritsen, Ballantine, 352 pages

Tess Gerritsen delivers another outstanding thriller in her series featuring Boston police Detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles. The murder of a big game hunter spurs them into action. The victim was bound and hung upside down like a hunter’s prey. His body was also cut open in a style reminiscent of being trimmed for meat consumption. The autopsy reveals the cause of death was likely a leopard attack, which has Isles questioning her skills as a medical examiner.

When another victim is discovered buried with several similarities to the first crime scene, Isles has a difficult time convincing Rizzoli of the connection that she believes exists between the two cases. To uncover the truth, she must go behind her friend’s back and hope she’s proven right. The murders appear to be tied to the events of a safari tour that went missing years earlier in Botswana. The guide wiped out the tourists, but one member survived and now lives in almost total isolation. It appears the killer is back and hunting for more victims, this time in Boston. Fans familiar with Rizzoli and Isles through the TNT television show will find the surroundings a bit different, but the characters and intrigue rock solid. Newcomers to Gerritsen and the franchise will discover a terrific mystery.

Associated Press