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John Crow's Devil

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  1,002 ratings  ·  148 reviews
This stunning debut novel tells the story of a biblical struggle in a remote Jamaican village in 1957. With language as taut as classic works by Cormac McCarthy, and a richness reminiscent of early Toni Morrison, Marlon James reveals his unique narrative command that will firmly establish his place as one of today's freshest, most talented young writers.

In the village of G
Hardcover, 226 pages
Published September 1st 2005 by Akashic Books
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3.74  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,002 ratings  ·  148 reviews

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Petra Eggs
The Book of Night Women was so fantastic, one of the best books I have ever read that I couldn't wait to start John Crow's Devil as soon as I'd finished it. I've had to DNF it though. I'm halfway through and I've tried it in print and audio and I just don't like it. The story was of the dynamic new fire-and-brimstone preacher, York the Apostle who had thrown out Bligh the Rum Preacher from his church. But it was not just a battle for the Church, but also for God v Obeah. Most people in the book ...more
Apr 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Cormac McCarthy, Gabriel García Márquez, and Toni Morrison
"Come now, church, who is ready to be violent for the Lord?"
There's something about organized religion that can be really terrifying at times, the way it can feed on fear and trump all logic and decency. This is illustrated to the nth degree in the unsettling debut novel by rising star Marlon James. The book tracks the downfall and destruction of the small Jamaican village of Gibbeah, in the wake of a religious battle between two evangelical preachers for the control of both the Holy Sepulch
Religion, corruption, promiscuity, sodomy, violence, bloodshed, humor, terror, betrayal, redemption, salvation. These are the subjects of Marlon James’ work, particularly this debut novel about a town in Jamaica in the midst of a preacher war. Go no further if reading about these things will affect your judgment of what is art and what is not. We all have our limits, and James is happy to play right to the edge.

There is no Table of Contents in this novel, and midway through, we may find we need
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa, jamaica, 2018-read
(Engl.: John Crow's Devil) Now available in a beautiful new German edition
In his dark and mystical debut novel, the brilliant Marlon James explores the human longing for purpose and direction and the ways in which it can be perverted. Set in Jamaica in 1957, we witness the epic battle for the position of religious leader in a remote village: Hector Bligh (the "Rum Preacher"), an alcoholic who in the past has neglected his duties as a priest, faces off against the newly arrived Lucas York ("Apost
Jul 30, 2018 rated it liked it
The Good:
Amazing imagery. Mood, tone, all that good stuff. There’s a Jamaican village sometime in the 20th century and the villagers are isolated and vulnerable. A holy man appears and dark sorcery ensues. This book is terrible, in a good way. The characters are awesome.

The Bad:
Because they are all traumatised, the characters’ motivations are very hard to grasp. The fantasy elements come and go without rhyme or reason and really detract from the dramatic tension. The ending is abrupt.

'Friends' c
Oct 24, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-fiction
Marlon James debut novel. Having read the brilliant A Brief History of Seven Killings this pales in comparison. Be that as it may I enjoyed it. A crazy mix of Jamaican voodoo (Obeah), religious fundamentalism, a fight between good and evil (never sure who or what was good or evil but part of the tale I suppose), lots of violence and fantasy this could make a good film for anyone that likes horror.
Read By RodKelly
Aug 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-owned
“God is looking for people who will carry out His command no matter how Holy, no matter how brutal, no matter how violent they may be...Come now, church, who's ready to be violent for the Lord?”

What a pleasure it was to circle back to Marlon James’s debut novel after completing the other three over the past few weeks! He is gifted with the ability to tell a story completely driven by voices; his ear for dialogue and his cinematic eye for scene-writing truly sets him apart from all other writers.
Apr 11, 2009 rated it liked it
Coming off my high from "Book of Night Women" I was excited to read Marlon's (yes, we are on a first name basis) first book. I was a little disappointed. It was good but did not come close to "Night Women".

This book is about an isolated Jamaican town that is full of sinners including the alcoholic Peacher that the call the Rum Preacher. One day a stranger comes in, Apostle York and kicks the Rum Preacher out of the church and vows to clean up to town of all its sin. What happens next is a battle
Aug 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
I love a good book about a "bad preacher"!
"John Crow's Devil" by Marlon James is a novel centered on a group of people, their church, and a battle between two preachers in a remote Jamaican village in 1957.
James' second novel "The Book of Night Women" The Book of Night Women is an outstanding, 5-star novel in my opinion. And his third novel "A Brief History of Seven Killings" A Brief History of Seven Killings (which I plan to read in the future) has received excellent reviews.

This novel, James' first, feels like (to use an analogy fro
Set in Jamaica, 1957, in the village of Gibbeah, and revolves around the Holy Sepulchral Full Gospel Church of St. Thomas Apostolic. In the opening pages, a charismatic stranger arrives, heralded by black vultures (John Crows) crashing into the windows of the church. The stranger, who calls himself Apostle York, drags the alcoholic and off-the-rails preacher, Hector Bligh, from the church, and takes his place - setting off a series of conflicts as the two struggle for power.

Magical realism, Obea
Oct 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-general
As I wrote in my review for Foreword magazine, this is an astounding book. How could such a rich fictional brew have come and gone - twice - with so little fanfare?

John Crow’s Devil tells the story of the Rum Preacher and the Apostle York, two sides of the same coin: one is out “to preach about forgiveness” and the other bent on “tearing down the kingdom of Satan” in the town of Gibbeah, Jamaica, a setting which provides Marlon James ample opportunity to delve into the intricate minds and lives
Missy J

What did I just read! Earlier this year I read Marlon James' A Brief History of Seven Killings and was blown away by it. Based on reviews, I was aware that John Crow's Devil wasn't a popular book and that it included a lot of atrocious scenes.

The content didn't put me off, but the flow of the story was difficult to follow. I lost track of what was going on because too much crazy stuff was happening. I guess James wanted to depict the horrors of religious frenzy and how group behaviors can l
This is Marlon James' debut novel and what a strong novel it is. As a Jamaican who grew up in the "country" this book perfectly captures country life and exactly what it feels like growing up in a village.

John Crow's Devil is set in a remote village called Gibbeah. In this village we meet Hector Bligh the 'Rum Preacher" who is failing at leading the flock to salvation. In walks Apostle York who dethrones the Rum Preacher and makes it his person mission to lead the village out of eternal damnati
Nov 29, 2015 rated it liked it
Didn't enjoy as much as his booker prize winning book but can see the gritty writing style starting
Mezan Ayoka
Sep 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Finished this one last week. It reminded me a bit of Erna Brodber, because of its non-linear storytelling and rich cultural unearthings, specifically African retentions in the Caribbean. Nonetheless, it stands on its own and was a frightful and uneasy exploration of repressed anger brought out in a spiritual environment. It was interesting that a male writer was very good at writing labrish and suss. And I also liked that the exploration of mental instability (craziness) was dealt in this place ...more
Laila (BigReadingLife)
It's been interesting reading Marlon James's books in reverse chronological order. I was so enamored with his third and second novels, I couldn't help but have high expectations for his first. But this was a hard read for me. It was brutal, relentlessly violent. There were some exquisitely written passages, but this story of two warring preachers in 1950's Jamaica left me cold. Still, I can't give one of my favorite writers anything less than three stars. I'm glad I read it just to see where his ...more
Aug 06, 2015 rated it did not like it
Meh, this just didn't do it for me. Marlon James is a great writer but I feel like this book was difficult to follow. There seems to be too much going on, and while his writing voice is strong, the plot is all over the place.
Jason Pettus
Oct 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

One of the things I like the most about Akashic Books is that, unlike so many other small presses, they make a deliberate effort not to put out only an endless stream of mopey character dramas about white creative-classers living in Brooklyn; take for example one of their latest, John Crow's Devil, which i
Nov 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016-top-ten
Marlon James doesn't so much tell you a story, he grabs the back of your head and grinds your face in it. Visceral and intense, uncompromising from the start and not for the faint hearted, it's a immersive tale of good vs evil, magic, religion and sexual obsession all played out in a Jamaican village in the fifties.

Without doubt the most exciting writer today - I've now read all three of his currently published books and I can't wait for whatever is next.
Nora Rawn
Feb 11, 2019 rated it liked it
I wasn't sure why this novel was compared to early Cormac McCarthy....and then I got to the end, bloody and disturbing, with the tension of the novel's rather slow progress finally snapping and bringing people's lives down around it. This is a novel about sexual abuse and trauma, in the end, but also about sin and righteousness, self-deception, belief, mass hysteria, religious revivals and their dark side, secret keeping, revenge,'s a dark, omen-filled and suggestive closed world ...more
Michael Bohli
Jul 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
Ich hätte niemals gedacht, dass ein Roman über zwei sich bekämpfende "Gotteskrieger" mich so fesseln könnte. Doch Marlon James hat es in seinem Debüt "Der Kult" geschafft, den Kampf zwischen Wahnsinn, Gottesfurcht und blindem Glauben packend darzustellen. Mit einer sehr direkten und intensiven Sprache wird die Handlung, welche in einem armen Dorf in Jamaika angesiedelt ist, sehr schnell zu einer kraftvollen Geschichte.

Nie ist man sich ganz sicher, was wirklich passiert ist und wie weit die unsi
Mar 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Marlon James is one of the most important writers of his generations, a position he cemented with his monumental A Brief History of Seven KillingsA Brief History of Seven Killings. I have been obsessed with him from the second I started reading The Book of Night Women and finally got around to reading his debut novel, John Crow's Devil. Wow. He forces you to look and feel and not turn away, even from the most violent, unsavory scenes. He doesn't write to entertain or to cuddle you with nice imag ...more
Apr 01, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I finished it 2 day ago but I dont think I'll get the opportunity to write review on my laptop so thisll be on my phone sorry all 2 ppl (maryam and hitarthi tysm) that read this bc it on my phone:)

Okay so this stupid book made no sense for the first half of the whole thing, it very likely bc im a stupid english speaking monolingual australian who also doesnt understand deepness but it made no sense and i had to decipher the entire thing, both bc of the language used which to start with was v gra
Bill Wallace
May 17, 2016 rated it liked it
Reading the earlier works of a great novelist always carries a certain risk. Marlon James' A Brief History of Seven Killings is such a consummate work of fiction that anything short of perfection in its precedents is doomed to disappoint. This first novel is good but not great, far more of a straight-ahead horror story than I would have expected, even more than his Book of Night Women. I was reminded some of Harry Crews' A Feast of Snakes, an explosion of religious excess that writhes well over ...more
Jun 13, 2016 rated it it was ok
Debut novel tells the story of a biblical struggle in a remote Jamaican village in 1957.
There is often no greater illusion that something you cannot see will be your saviour or your curse.
The language at times was difficult to follow, but the story - although brutal in parts - kept me relatively engaged to get through this book to count it for a reading challenge.
Jul 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Loved the lyrical language and the "island-ness" of the story. Using local vernacular added a real sense of ethnicity and originality to the book. I hope Mr. James has a lot more stories to share with us.
Paul Fulcher
Oct 26, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
"He called himself Apostle York. And nothing that had yet invaded Gibbeah - not redifusion radio, Bazooka Joe chewing gum, or condoms - moved with his seismic force. He was a whirlwind. He was a centre. Fluttery voices made mention of the Apostle's looks, so like Tyrone Power in the Mask of Zorro that was still shown at the Majestic, but with a trimmed beard, wet eyes and unruly black hair, like a coolie. God has sent him to Gibbeah. Jesus looked just like him. This meant he had power to deal wi ...more
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
4.5/5 A great debut novel! I will review this one later.
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Marlon James is a Jamaican-born writer. He has published three novels: John Crow's Devil (2005), The Book of Night Women (2009) and A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014), winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize. Now living in Minneapolis, James teaches literature at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

James was born in Kingston, Jamaica, to parents who were both in the Jamaican police: his mo
“Drunkenness was a communal and personal pleasure at once, a miserable state only to those not drinking. Sobriety to him was a cruel attack of conscience masking itself as awareness. If sober people were so aware, how come they only spoke truth when drunk? Give him the romance of a drunkard over the indignation of a teetotaler any day.” 4 likes
“People would say that if the Rum Preacher was all that stood between Heaven and Hell, then everybody had better stock up on asbestos.” 0 likes
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