A Review of “The Haunting of Tram Car 015” By P. Djeli Clark

Still making my way through P. Djeli Clark’s A Dead Djinn Universe stories in anticipation of A Master of Djinn.

The first story in the series — from which the “universe” gets its name — A Dead Djinn in Cairo, left me wondering how I’d missed it back in 2016. A thoroughly steampunk Cairo, reimagined as a city of equal or greater prominence than western cities like New York or London. Egypt is at the heart of the mechanical and magical advancements of the early 1900s and as we investigate a mystical Djinn’s murder, we dive deeper into a city which contends with cults to ancient Egyptian Gods, more Djinn, mysterious Marid and Angels.

The Angel of Khan el-Khalili was a much shorter stay in this unique setting. Clarke uses the (I guess) controversial 2nd person point of view to put us in the mind of a young girl on very a personal mission. The magic and wonder of the world show through brightly, and we’re able to learn just a bit more about the mysterious Angels presented in the first story. There’s a bit of a twist which I enjoyed (but won’t spoil) and I was generally really impressed with this little bite sized glimpse into the setting.

But what about the tram car?

Yes! This review is of The Haunting of Tram Car 015. This trip into steampunk Cairo was a little less enchanting for me than my first outing in A Dead Djinn in Cairo. We are introduced to a new main character (well really two new MC’s although we only get POV of one), this time a man, who also works for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. Hamed Nasr lacks the style and pizazz of A Dead Djinn‘s main character, Fatma el-Sha’arawi, but does his best working lower profile cases. He’s experienced, diligent, and thorough, which means he’s a reliable man for the job, if not necessarily an exciting one.

This perhaps brings me to my first negative critique of the piece. Hamed is meant to be showing the other MC (Onsi Youssef) the ropes and instructing him in the ways of detection etc. However, it felt like Onsi’s ingenuity and wit progressed the case more than anything Hamed did, and Onsi’s schemes — however seemingly naïve — also provided significantly more humor as well. I know many detective stories will pair a ‘straight man’ with a funnier character for laughs, but the more sensible character still needs to pull us in if they’re in fact the hero. I never felt I was reading to see Hamed succeed so much as to see what new hijinks Onsi would come up with.

Next we consider the main thrust of the plot, the haunted tram car, 015. I enjoyed this plot for several reasons, the first being its uniqueness in terms of place. We are all very familiar with houses being haunted, or asylums, or maybe an old ship out at sea, but I think this is my first reading of a haunted tram car (unless we count One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston which isn’t really framed as a haunting in the traditional sense). It seems as good a place as any for a spirit to reside and seemed to fit the rest of the setting very well.

The type of spirit (which I won’t spoil) also serves to make the world of this universe that much larger which for me was good and bad. I always appreciate learning about a new mythology which I haven’t been exposed to before, but in this case I kind of wish we had continued to explore the mythology founded in A Dead Djinn before importing something new.

Finally, we get to the pivotal scene, which I also will try not to spoil (too much), but will say that I thought the imagery quite funny to imagine while still being rife with tension. The progress of women’s rights in this reimagined Cairo, given just a passing nod in the beginning of the story, and mentioned here and there throughout the rest of the story, ended up being the platform on which the whole finale takes place. I hope to someday be able to employ a similar trick in my own writing. It felt that good.


In general, yes I’d recommend this story, but with the caveat that if you’re looking for another Dead Djinn in Cairo, you may be a little disappointed. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is very much its own story even though it is set in the same universe. Though there is some crossover (we do actually share a dessert with Fatama in one scene), Onsi Hamed is the star of his own adventure.

It will be interesting to see what if any connections will be drawn from Tram Car 015 once I finally get to A Master of Djinn.

In the meantime, what did y’all think of this story? Were you able to guess who what kind of spirit was haunting the tram? Who was your favorite character? What made you laugh? Leave me some comments so we can chat. Looking forward to discussion on this one!


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