The Haunting Of Tram 015 – by P. Djèlí Clark

Once again, let’s talk about to the Dead Djinn Universe. If you’ve read my previous posts, you’re already familiar with its setting and core concepts. The Haunting Of Tram 015 takes us back to the world of supernatural investigations, in the same spirit as A Dead Djinn In Cairo; this novella, indeed, shares some similarities with the first work of the series, and while it has a different main character and an entirely independent story, it does make open references to its events. Now, let’s see how the concept fares in a slightly longer format.

Title: The Haunting Of Tram Car 015

Author: P. Djèlí Clark


Publication Date: 19 February 2019

Genre: Fantasy – Alternate History – Steampunk

Length: 144 pages

Standaone or Series: Standalone (part of the Dead Djinn Universe)

Synopsis: The setting is, once again, an alternate version of early XX Century Cairo where magic has come back and humans live and work alongside otherworldly beings. Senior Agent Hamed al-Nasr, of the already familiar Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, is showing his new partner Agent Onsi the ropes of investigation when they are called to deal with tram car apparently possessed by a malicious supernatural. The mission seems straightforward, but of course it is not, and the two agents will need to venture deeper into the chaotic and multifaceted reality of their city, getting acquainted with sentient automata, suffage activists, secret societies, peculiar individuals both humans and not.

Analysis: After the stylistic and thematic deviation seen in The Angel Of Khan El-Khalili, in The Haunting of Tram Car 015 P. Djèlí Clark goes back to his more traditional format, featuring a mystery story told in a limited, but nevertheless fairly informative, third person narration. In order to educate us on the nature of his setting without resorting to extraneous infodumps, or forcing the main character to double as a tour guide, the author builds Onsi as a conveniently pedantic deuteragonist, always ready to lecture on any topic at hand. While this is a fairly obvious device, it still flows quite well with the story, especially as it fits Onsi’s characterization as an educated but inexperienced agent all too eager to prove himself useful.

Not unlike A Dead Djinn In Cairo, this novella features a detective story that ties together supernatural entities and the growing pains of Egyptian society. The mystery plot has now some more breathing space, so that it can afford a slightly less linear development – even though the main charm of the book is as usual its setting, that vivaciously blends together magical and mundane conflicts, flights of imagination and callbacks to societal issues. Agent Hamed is pehaps a less memorable – and certainly less eccentric – character than his colleague Fatma, but he works just fine as a witness to the many novelties, ideas and practices he’s faced with; his dynamic with his younger and sometimes annoying colleague Onsi is , if not especially original, always amusing to watch.

The one part that I felt wasn’t developed to its full potential was the suffrage movement subplot – which is built as an important theme and is indeed a milestone in the history of the setting, but in the end is featured more as a backdrop than anything else. Perhaps, while I otherwise enjoyed Hamed’s perspective, this is the one theme I would have liked to see through the eyes of Fatma, or of someone more involved anyway.

Conclusions & Recommendations: The Haunting of Tram Car 015 doesn’t add much to the Dead Djinn Universe, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it is, indeed, a solid and enjoyable story in an already familiar and inherently awesome setting. If you’ve loved the other works, you won’t regret reading this as well.

Content Warning: Sexism – Pregnancy – Miscarriage – Violence – Xenophobia

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