A second story in Clark’s fascinating historical fantasy Cairo
Cairo, 1912: The case started as a simple one for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities — handling a possessed tram car.
Soon, however, Agent Hamed Nasr and his new partner Agent Onsi Youssef are exposed to a new side of Cairo stirring with suffragettes, secret societies, and sentient automatons in a race against time to protect the city from an encroaching danger that crosses the line between the magical and the mundane.
I’m a newcomer to P. Djèlí Clark’s work, and I must say he is fast becoming one of my favourite new authors. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is a novella set in the same world as the author’s A Dead Djinn in Cairo short story. Both are mysteries, with protagonists tasked with investigating supernatural goings-on in an alternate-history Cairo — one in which djinn, gods and spirits (among others) exist and changed the course of history. I really enjoyed this, and think a lot of others will too.
I’m not going to go much into the plot of the novella, as I think the synopsis gives you just the right amount to prepare you for what you’re going to read. It’s a great, short mystery, one that serves to introduce us to the characters and world, with just a little chill of horror injected into the mix (the antagonist is deeply creepy).
Over the course of the two main characters’ investigation we learn a lot about this version of our world. And the best thing is, it never feels like info-dumping. All of the details, colour and characters we meet or learn about are expertly woven into the story and plot. Clark’s descriptions are vivid and never over-the-top. It was very easy to visualize each scene in the book. The setting is superb, has plenty of room to grow and be further explored, and may even be one of my favourites. The author’s prose is excellent, and his characters are three-dimensional and interesting. I especially liked the relationship and interactions between the two main inspectors (one older and wiser, the other younger and hyper-enthusiastic and keen).
I really enjoyed this novella, and I hope there will be more stories set in this world. I would definitely recommend you put The Haunting of Tram Car 015 onto your “Must Buy” list for 2019.
P. Djèlí Clark’s The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is due to be published by Tor.com on February 19th, 2019, in North America and in the UK. Tor.com has published another of Clark’s novellas, The Black God’s Drums, which is out now.
Also on CR: Interview with P. Djèlí Clark (2018)