The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djeli Clark

Of the things that I celebrate about our future with lots of eBooks is the explosion of eBooks at a wide variety of lengths. Some are very long. I was able to purchase and read the entire Song of Ice and Fire, to date, as a very light and convenient eBook, one week when I was down with an illness. Some are much shorter. Many are neither short nor long. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djeli Clark (with apologies to the author because I do not know, and have not been able to deduce, yet, how to properly write his name in WordPress, with the appropriate symbols above the e and i) is an example of a shorter piece that is, in many ways, as satisfying as any longer novel, though it is a brief and relaxing read during my current crushed schedule. (Real talk: I’m finalizing the layout and edits on EVIL IN TECHNICOLOR while working on the developmental edits of an unannounced title… While working my day job, and raising a toddler. I’m slammed!) How wonderful, then, to know I can read a whole, complete thing in less than a week,  from my phone, and experience the wonderful ambience of magical, alternate history Cairo, with it’s sensual and Gnostic descriptions of a complex culture at a great moment of change. In this imagined past, Djinnis have entered the world in full, magic is real, and Cairo’s overthrow of Colonialism in the early twentieth century was also driven by it’s rise to cultural dominance in the world due to the power of Egyptian alchemists and mystics and Djinni and collected ancient manuscripts. A government agency is in charge of monitoring and controlling these mystical phenomena, of course, and our heroes are members of this bureaucratic brotherhood of quite-nearly-policemen-but-not-quite. Agent Hamad Nasr, the older and experienced member of the Ministry, partners with the young and inexperienced Agent Omar Yousseff, to deduce why a magical flying tram car has become suddenly and inexplicably haunted by a force no one in the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities has ever before seen. The spectral entity appears first as a kind of sinuous smoke in the gears of the grounded tram, and then becomes so much more horrifying than a mere ghost or djinn.

From this brief description, and from the description provided by the book, itself, one would not know how important women are to this story. At every step, it is women who provide the impetus of action and change and nuance and debate and discussion. This story is set against the backdrop of a suffragette movement that is as cosmopolitan and multi-cultural as Cairo, with devout Muslims arm-in-arm with Coptic Christians and educated women heavily influenced by Europe and many in between things and peoples. The true heroes of the book, it would also seem, are the great mass of women whose powers and traditions are too often ignored by the male-dominated hierarchies of political power in 1912 Cairo, Egypt.

And, it was also a satisfying spectral mystery, following these detectives through the chain of logic to their discovery, deducing what the entity in that tram car actually is, and what it is not, and how their male-dominated profession is, in fact, uniquely ill-suited to solving this particular branch of haunting. For too long, it would seem, the powers and spectral problems of the women of their world are pushed aside, and it takes a clear mind and logic and willingness to accept the help of women, whether that be a clearly-underemployed bored waitress in a Nubian restaurant, or a powerful and wealthy witch operating below the eyes of the law, or even just the crowd, itself, full of women who have great power, if only anyone bothered to notice, that this narrative runs through the mysteries and solutions of the terrible thing inside of Tram 015. I found many things to love in this little book, and this is only one.

Now, pardon me from mentioning anything else, while I attempt to finish keying changes to the PDF file of EVIL IN TECHNICOLOR!

Categories: Book Reviews

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