In a dazzling display of masterful storytelling, Marlon James explores the extraordinary backstory to the attempted assassination of Bob Marley.

Jamaica, 1976. Seven gunmen storm Bob Marley’s house, machine guns blazing. The reggae superstar survives, but the gunmen are never caught. Marlon James investigates the story behind this near-mythical event. The result is a mesmerising, continent-crossing tale that spans three decades, with a shadowy cast of street kids, drug lords, journalists, prostitutes, gunmen and secret service agents.

Winner
The Man Booker Prize 2015
Published by
Oneworld Publications
Publication date
Marlon James

Marlon James

About the Author

Marlon James is the author of the New York Times bestseller A Brief History of Seven Killings, The Book of Night Women, and John Crow's Devil.
More about Marlon James

The inspiration behind A Brief History of Seven Killings

In December 1976, less than two weeks before a general election was to be held in Jamaica and just two days before Bob Marley was to play at a concert to ease political tensions in Kingston, the country’s capital, several gunmen stormed the singer’s house. 

The attackers, armed with machine guns, wounded Marley, his wife and his manager, as well as several others. It is that shooting – and the lead up and aftermath of it for a cast of fictional characters – that James explores in A Brief History of Seven Killings

Despite his enduring popularity, the attempted assassination of Marley is often overlooked, and James’ book is responsible for bringing knowledge of the event to a new audience.

For those who want to know more about the real events that James’ book is based on, reggae historian and archivist Roger Steffens’ book So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley offers an insight into the events of December 3, 1976. Read an extract from the book at Rolling Stone.

Bob Marley with his head thrown back while performing.

Q&A

When he was longlisted for A Brief History of Seven Killings in 2015, Marlon James sat down to the talk to us about writing a book with dozens of characters, and about his favourite Booker-winning novel. 

What has it been like to be longlisted? 
Fantastic and surreal. My literary sensibilities have been shaped by Booker winners, shortlisters and longlisters from I was a kid studying literature on high school. 

What are you working on next? 
Something set in the 11th century. 

What are you reading at the moment? 
Clarice Lispector, The Complete Stories

What is your favourite Man Booker-winning novel? 
The Line Of Beauty

A Brief History of Seven Killings contains some 75 characters. What was your reasoning behind using such a crowd? 
That’s just it, reason had to go out the window!  I had to get the point where my inner critic stopped questioning my moves, because often I was moving without a second thought or even a first one. It was the riskiest thing I had ever done and reasoning had nothing to do with it. 

Marlon James sitting on a sofa leaning his head on his hand

Listen to an extract from A Brief History of Seven Killings

The many characters of Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings are brought to life in the audiobook by Robertson Dean, Cherise Boothe, Dwight Bacquie, Ryan Anderson, Jonathan McClain, Robert Younis and Thom Rivera.

A Brief History of Seven Killings audiobook cover on a yellow background

The fiction writer in me likes gaps in stories because I can jump into that gap and try to suggest something.

Marlon James on Desert Island Discs

Marlon James appeared on Desert Island Discs in 2019 where, as well as picking his favourite tracks, he spoke about getting 78 rejections for his first manuscript and finding solace in Kurt Cobain’s words.

Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, 22 March 2019

Marlon James sitting down with his right leg crossed over his left.

Akala meets Marlon James

The British Council paired Marlon James with British poet and rapper Akala for its Walking Cities series, in which writers tour each other’s respective local cities. The pair spent time together in Kingston, Jamaica, and discussed gentrification, racism and the best music to listen to while writing.

Akala on stage with his hands up in the air.

The winning moment

Marlon James became the first Jamaican writer to win the Man Booker Prize when A Brief History of Seven Killings triumphed in 2015.

On accepting the award, James paid tribute to the whole shortlist:

‘There are so many ways to tell, let’s call it, the English language novel. It’s so humbling and so wonderful that you fell in love with six wonderful, experimental, outrageous, dark, beautiful novels that I think, what we’re really just trying to do is make sense of the world we’re in. And I don’t think we’re ever going to find the answers but I also think as novelists we’re just here to ask better questions. So I will continue to do that.’

James’ book was chosen by the judging panel of Professor Michael Wood, Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, John Burnside, Sam Leith and Frances Osborne.

Watch the moment James was announced as the winner below.

Marlon James, 2015

This book is startling in its range of voices and registers... It moves at a terrific pace and will come to be seen as a classic of our times

— Michael Wood, chair of judges, Man Booker Prize 2015