The #TFBookClub reads ‘A Death in the Medina’ set in Marrakech

18th December 2019

Thank you for joining us as we read A Death in the Medina by James von Leyden, set in MARRAKECH, Morocco (January/February 2020).

We hope you enjoy reading this absorbing thriller set amongst the bustling souks and sumptuous riads of Marrakech ….

We will be chatting about the book throughout January and February 2020, so if you are reading it with us, please come and join the dialogue!

The #TFBookClub is your book club – we are here to help you discover new titles that will transport you to interesting locations via top literature for some exceptional #literarywanderlust.

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  1. User: LisaRowsell

    Posted on: 24/02/2020 at 3:21 pm

    I’ve finished the book now, and whilst I really enjoyed the book it did drag a little towards the end.


  2. User: LisaRowsell

    Posted on: 01/02/2020 at 5:19 pm

    I’m about a third of the way through it, and I’m really enjoying it so far. So detailed is the setting, and the characters that I feel that I’m right there with them. While a little slow to start with, I looking forwarded to getting deeper into the plot.


  3. User: Lesley Morton-Evans

    Posted on: 31/01/2020 at 9:56 pm

    Thank you for including me in the book club selection. I read the book over 3 days and thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt immediately immersed into Marrakesh life, the smells and sounds surrounded me whilst I read.
    Unlike some of your other readers, I did not find the main character Karim Belkacem irritating. I found him totally believable. His determination to solve the mystery whilst juggling so many worries in relation to his sister’s forthcoming marriage and the family expectations was admirable. His worries and frustrations ran parallel with the oppressive heat and rituals of Ramadan. I liked how his character developed and by the end of the story I could see the possibility of a further novel being written including him.

    The mystery of the murdered girl captivated me from the start and I was satisfied by the outcome. The “red herrings” didn’t fool me, however, I wasn’t expecting the final twist either. Thank you very much for my copy. My understanding of Ramadan and knowledge of Marakesh life has been substantially increased . A great choice for the Trip Fiction book club.


  4. User: Ruth-Anne Sahin

    Posted on: 18/01/2020 at 2:46 pm

    I have just finished reading Death in the Medina and I really enjoyed it. At first I thought it would be annoying the way the story moved through each characters part of the story but then I got really into it and loved the way you can follow the characters in a kind or real time. The atmosphere of being in Morocco at Ramadan really came through and all the twists in the story worked well. Just when you thought you knew who done it, the story changed and you had to start rethinking.
    A really great read. Would love Karim Belkacem to have a few more cases to solve


  5. User: Andrea Hedgcock

    Posted on: 15/01/2020 at 3:15 pm

    I’ve not been to Morocco but certainly feel as though I’ve been there whilst reading this! You can feel the heat, the sweat dripping, the lack of air. The portrayal of Ramadan is described well, personally not too bothered by the sheep sacrifice! The murder of a Moroccan girl and the subsequent search for clues by Karim Belkacen, a somewhat naïve local commissariat, is set against the backdrop of old Morocco clashing with the new. I really liked the depth of characterisation, often we are introduced to only a select few but this had a number of characters, all well portrayed and part of the slow unravelling of the crime. Until it wasn’t until the end that we knew who the murderer was it didn’t seem a slow read as there was plenty going on. James von Leyden has written a second novel with Karim due out later in 2020, and I’ll certainly be keeping my eye out for that. Thanks TripFiction for sending a copy!


    1 Comment

    • User: tripfiction

      Posted on: 15/01/2020 at 4:40 pm

      Hi Andrea, I’m so glad you enjoyed it so much! I’m also glad you didn’t feel it was too slow to unravel – I still haven’t quite made my mind up about it! I’ll definitely be reading the next one because the location descriptions were just so fab!


  6. User: julie ryan

    Posted on: 13/01/2020 at 9:27 am

    Really loving this book – a fabulous sense of place. The sounds, sights and smells of Marrakech just jump off the page.


    1 Comment

    • User: tripfiction

      Posted on: 13/01/2020 at 2:42 pm

      Absolutely agree Julie! The location stands out so much! Thank you for letting us know your thoughts 🙂


  7. User: JessicaRabbit31

    Posted on: 11/01/2020 at 6:25 pm

    I was very much looking forward to this one because it didn’t sound like your average thriller.

    I usually read on my commute to and from work and I couldn’t wait to pick this back up after putting it down each time. The setting was rich in context and James didn’t skimp on any details.

    Sometimes it can take me a little while to really get a feel for a book but I can honestly say with this it wasn’t the case. I also liked how informative it was and it wasn’t just a thriller full of doom and gloom as it was descriptive with regards to Ramadan too. I have been in Turkey during Ramadan and made friends with some locals but this novel has given me a deeper insight as to what it is like for a devout Muslim during the holiday.

    The ending wasn’t like I anticipated as I thought that there were a few odds and ends that I would have liked tying together however I realise that this could be a teaser for a second one.

    I have never been to Marrakech but with this book I really did feel like I was transported to Morrocco shadowing Karim Belkacem in his investigation all of which flowed beautifully throughout the story.

    I would like to read more books by this author. Thank you to TripFiction for sending me a copy in exchange of an honest review.



    • User: tripfiction

      Posted on: 15/01/2020 at 4:34 pm

      Sounds like you really enjoyed it Sara! I agree that it is so easy to imagine yourself back there, and the insights in to Ramadan are fascinating. It is quite clear it is wonderfully researched – will let you know if I hear of a new one 🙂


    • User: Sara Hill

      Posted on: 14/01/2020 at 5:12 pm

      I read this in a couple of days as it was so good! I have only been to the touristy bits (with a guide) but I could certainly imagine myself back in the souks. I have actually eaten in the restaurant which was bombed in 2011.
      I found the insight into Ramadan fascinating as I had never really appreciated the hardship of fasting in a hot climate. I liked the use of French and was pleased that I could understand it!
      I don’t want to give the plot away but I really thought the murderer was a good guy throughout
      most of the book.
      I read that it took the author a long time to research and write this book but I do hope he is now working on his next one!


    • User: tripfiction

      Posted on: 12/01/2020 at 4:17 pm

      Hello! Thank you so much for your review 🙂 I’m glad you really enjoyed it. Agree that the setting descriptions are amazing and you get so much more information about Ramadan and the culture. It certainly took me straight back to Marrakesh. I’d agree about the odds and ends, but maybe you’re right and that’s been left for another book.


  8. User: Melanie Daniels

    Posted on: 09/01/2020 at 9:39 am

    I finished this yesterday and absolutely loved it! I found the descriptions of Marrakech so detailed and evocative. I could almost feel the dry heat and felt so much sympathy and admiration for the citizens having to work, fast and endure extreme weather during ramadan. Morocco sounds like such a beautiful country that I would really love to visit someday.
    The plot had me hooked from the start. I loved all the twists and turns, especially towards the end – at one point it seemed that the ending was going to be a bit predictable, but that wasn’t the case! The characters were all interesting and well written, I thought. Ayesha was my favourite character. I found her situation and the forbidden love affair between her and Karim very interesting. I hope that she decides to get an education and join the police service in future novels as she would be a brilliant detective. In fact, I’d probably read a novel all about her! I will definitely read any further books in this series.
    Having read the comments below, it seems some people found Karim’s character a bit irritating, but I have to say, I didn’t. Yes, he is young and a bit naive and inexperienced, but I think that’s the point. He has been forced into being the head of a family, earning money, making decisions and working two jobs all at a young age, plus dealing with the extreme physical demands of ramadan and insomnia. I think as the series progresses his character will start to develop and he will grow into a more confident and assertive person.
    Overall, I thought this was a great read with interesting characters, a very developed sense of place and an interesting plot. Thanks for my copy!


    1 Comment

    • User: tripfiction

      Posted on: 12/01/2020 at 4:13 pm

      Hi Melanie, thank you very much for your review! I’m glad you enjoyed it so much 🙂 Totally agree that the descriptions of Morocco are great and that you get a little taste of the culture and country. When I got to the end of the book I still couldn’t decide whether I liked Karim or not – but maybe you’re right and that is the point!!!


  9. User: Harriet Steel

    Posted on: 07/01/2020 at 2:57 pm

    I’ve finished and continued to enjoy all the detail about Marrakesh and what it’s like to live there in the 21st century, although I think that the author didn’t need to write quite so much about the Ramadan fast for us to get the picture! (Incidentally, thank you to other readers for the prior warning; I skipped the sheep sacrifice scene.) Unfortunately, my earlier view that the book didn’t work very well as a murder mystery didn’t change. I think the mystery was far too diluted, not only by all the description and information, but also by the other plot lines. There were considerable stretches of the book where the mystery faded into the background, and at one stage, I felt that the author was far more interested in the story of Kay and Sebastian anyway. I was glad that Karim had his moment of triumph with the investigation into the contraband drugs. I had sympathy for him as a young man struggling with various problems, from being a member of the wrong sect – the Berbers – to being forced into the position of head of the household with all the responsibility that entailed, as well as having little prospect of being able to marry the girl he loved. However, if he’s to be the lynchpin of a future series, he’ll need to be fleshed out as a much more capable detective and decisive character than he is at the moment. I don’t get the impression that the author intends to go down The Pink Panther route. The different plot lines were mostly tied up at the end but in a bit of a rush. The change of pace jarred after the rest of the book had unfolded at a very leisurely pace. Overall though, I was glad I read it and many thanks again for my copy.


    1 Comment

    • User: tripfiction

      Posted on: 12/01/2020 at 4:09 pm

      Hi Harriet! Thanks for the rest of your review 🙂 And I’m glad you enjoyed it overall! Interesting that you felt sympathy for Karim, I couldn’t work out if I felt sympathy or annoyance! I also managed to skip the sheep sacrifice!


  10. User: lapsapchung

    Posted on: 07/01/2020 at 6:56 am

    Well, I’ve finished reading it at last – I’m a very fast reader and it’s almost unheard of for a book of that size to take me a week to read. But I found it a very slow read and not the kind of book I felt compelled to pick up in every spare moment. The story itself was rather thin and I didn’t take to any of the characters. I thought Karim was rather wet, nowhere near assertive or decisive enough to be a detective or to be the head of a family and have to look after his mother and sister(s). I didn’t like the ending of the book either, there were several characters who didn’t get what they seemed to have coming to them, and a few loose ends that were bluntly chopped off rather than being tied in.
    As for the descriptions of the city, the people, the culture and the religion, that’s really what makes up the main bulk of the book. I found it all very interesting – for instance I’d never thought about the problems with dehydration and possible kidney failure during Ramadan in hot climates – yet I sometimes felt I was being forcibly educated. I love to learn about places and cultures through reading fiction, but I prefer it to be in the background rather than making up the bulk of the story. For instance, it’s helpful to know that Karim prayed a lot, because his devout faith explains his reluctance to form a deeper relationship with Ayesha, but did we really need the full description of exactly what he did and said every time he prayed? As for the sheep-slaughtering scene, even as a meat eater I found it unpleasantly graphic and disturbing; a vegetarian would probably have nightmares after reading it!
    From a Trip Fiction point of view, I’ve learned a lot about a city I’ve never visited and a culture I am only superficially familiar with, so in that way the book was a great success, but from a general enjoyment point of view it was a bit of a damp squib, and as a thriller it didn’t work for me at all.


    1 Comment

    • User: tripfiction

      Posted on: 07/01/2020 at 9:14 am

      Hello, thank you so much for your comment! Really interesting!! I’m about halfway through (and now really intrigued to know what you mean by some characters don’t get what they seemed to have coming 🙂 ) Interesting that you find the descriptions a little too much, so far I’m really enjoying finding out about the culture, but I can totally understand that it could be a little too much and it does seem to detract from the thrill of the book. Agree that from a TripFiction point of view it’s great on location, I’m being taken straight back to Marrakesh!


  11. User: Harriet Steel

    Posted on: 05/01/2020 at 7:53 pm

    I’m about halfway through and enjoying this very much from the setting point of view. I’ve only visited Marrakesh once and then very briefly, but all the detailed and vivid description is bringing it back to me. I’m also finding the cultural and religious references interesting. The author has done a good job of conveying the struggle of doing the Ramadan fast in temperatures of 40c and upwards. As to characters, unlike Janine, I haven’t found Karin particularly irritating although he does seem rather naive and ineffectual. The episode with the burning mattress made me smile. I think the other characters are well developed if a little formulaic; to me, Ayesha is the most appealing. As far as the story goes, I agree that it moves very slowly, bogged down in all the detail. I certainly wouldn’t describe the book as a thriller! It would be interesting to know why the author chose to tell the story from Karim’s point of view when he’s been sidelined so early on and is very junior. I wonder if he’ll end up exposing police corruption or something along those lines and come into his own eventually.


    1 Comment

    • User: tripfiction

      Posted on: 07/01/2020 at 9:01 am

      Hi Harriet, thank you very much for your thoughts! I’m also about half way through and think you’ve summed my thoughts up too 🙂 Like Janine, I find Karim a bit irritating – but I think for the reasons that you’ve mentioned. He does seem to be naive and ineffectual (so far) which, to me, is unusual for a thriller. Agree that it is a bit slow moving but I actually quite like all the detail – especially about Marrakesh. It’s taking me right back to a holiday I had there 6 years ago! Looking forward to knowing your opinion when you get to the end. 🙂


  12. User: Janine Phillips

    Posted on: 05/01/2020 at 6:51 pm

    Ok, I have now finished. Very descriptive on location and culture. I found the plot dragged out and Karim very irritating. Sadly I was not gripped at all.


    1 Comment

    • User: tripfiction

      Posted on: 07/01/2020 at 8:51 am

      Hi Janine! Sorry you weren’t gripped at all! I’m about half way through and agree, Karim is a bit irritating. So far it is great for being set in Morocco and I’m learning lots about the culture. Agree that it’s good to speak a bit of French (which I don’t!!).


  13. User: Miriam Smith

    Posted on: 05/01/2020 at 8:53 am

    Thank you for allowing me to partake in this month’s book club, here is my review –

    Death stalks the medina of Marrakech . . .
    Set in Marrakech, Morocco this crime thriller ‘ A Death in the Medina”, written by James von Leyden is a highly atmospheric and rich in detail novel that will capture the imagination of any reader who loves to travel the globe through books and who enjoys an authentically written story.
    Although for me it did take time to get into the ambience of the setting and get used to the many foreign places, names and phrases but once I did, I felt I was transported to Morocco and became a part of the story. Feeling the sweltering dry heat, hearing the call to prayer, the shouts from the local traders and the smells and taste of the honey, sesame, mint and the many pungent aromas, you could easily believe you were standing in the old part of the town and a member of the community.
    Set in 2011 and based on a couple of real life events, the author has put a tremendous amount of his own personal knowledge and love of Morocco into the story and together with an obvious quantity of research in to the culture of Muslims including their religion and the Quran, this is a very enjoyable book if you like exploring and learning about different cultures. The intense details of Ramadan and the emotions of the people enduring it, made me feel I was actually fasting with them and I truly felt for their ordeal of not eating during the sweltering heat of the day and losing sleep at night to eat.
    All in all, a modern day murder mystery wrapped up in rich, atmospheric detail that will appeal to many and I expect Detective Karim Belkacem to return again in the near future.

    3 stars

    Thank you to TripFiction’s #TFBookClub for my copy of the book in return for an honest review.



    • User: MIRIAM SMITH

      Posted on: 10/01/2020 at 5:54 pm

      I didn’t find Karim irritating just that he’s obviously naive and that’s probably down to his background and where he comes from. It’s not a thriller in my eyes, more a family saga with a crime element but if that makes it a thriller than that’s what it is. I agree on learning about the culture but it felt more like a geographical/cultural learning book than a fictional novel. Pleased to have read and experienced the lifestyle of Moroccans.


    • User: tripfiction

      Posted on: 07/01/2020 at 9:31 am

      Hi Miriam, thank you very much for your review. I think you’re right, there has obviously been a huge amount of research into Marrakesh – I’m really enjoying all the descriptions and all the things I’m learning about the culture and the country. The descriptions of Ramadan are very interesting. What did you think of Karim as a character? Others have been saying that he’s a bit annoying. So far (and I’m about halfway through) I tend to agree that he is definitely not what you expect of a detective in a thriller. And on that note, would you say it is a thriller? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!


  14. User: Rachel Hall

    Posted on: 05/01/2020 at 8:02 am

    Thank you TF for my copy of the book which I gave 3 out of 5 stars. I wrote a short review which I posted to Goodreads and Amazon and have posted this below:

    A murder of a local girl in the midst of Ramadan in Marrakech – hard going.

    A Death in Medina is the first in a projected series of police procedurals to feature Lieutenant Karim Belkacem, an eager and devour young Muslim Berber in the commissariat in modern day Marrakech, Morocco. Having loosely woven several events of 2011 into his story there is no doubt that James von Leyden’s portrayal of a bustling and culturally rich city is up to the moment and realistic. Drenched in atmosphere and a detailed look at the gruelling experience of fasting during Ramadan I confess to finding the novel hard going due to just how immersive the writing proved! Foreign dialect, locations and names together with details about the Muslim religion and traditions (including the graphic description of sacrificing a sheep for Eid) proved a little too abundant to the detriment of actually telling a decent crime story.

    The central mystery involves the body of a local Muslim girl turning up dead in a handcart outside the walls of a mosque. Dressed in clothing appropriate for a nightclub and with a sign attached to her body casting aspersions on her character, Karim is first to the scene. When he discovers that the victim is the daughter of his father’s former best friend and at the age of eight he was once betrothed to her, his resolve to see justice done is hardened. When the case is taken off him and handed to an officer of the same rank he starts to fear there could well be a cover-up with the murder put down to a honour killing within the family for the sake of tourism. I could not really understand the weight that Karim put on his destined betrothal but along with his dislike of the newly assigned detective he feels compelled to perform his own shadow investigation. As life goes on alongside with Karim forced for take a night job to finance his sisters wedding, his own romantic life is forced to take a back seat.

    For me the mystery element was a bit of a non-starter, with it pretty obvious from the start who the bad guys were and there was little suspense in the police detection which felt haphazard and and deserved a tighter plot. As an investigator Karim is naive and headstrong and although his devotion to supporting his family and determination to see justice done is admirable he did feel a little too flawless to be realistic. I did however enjoy learning about the divide between Karim and several colleagues who looked down on his Berber heritage. It is Karim’s foundling sister, Ayesha, who made the strongest impression on me and seemed the best fit for a job in the commissariat! Disappointedly the westerners are one-dimensional and don’t get a good press at all!

    Overall the novel was culturally and religiously top-heavy. Although I learnt an enormous amount about the city of Morocco, the daily lives of the natives and the experience of Ramadan as a fasting Muslim, I did become a little bogged down by all the unnecessary detail that prevented the story flowing. Whilst the extensive foreign dialogue and recitals of the Quran may have made for a more authentic read, sadly it made the book hard going for a confused non-linguist atheist.

    With many thanks to TripFiction for supplying my copy of this novel as part of the #TFBookClub.



    • User: Helen Clayton

      Posted on: 19/02/2020 at 10:40 am

      Such a full review and I do agree. The sense of place, the heat etc were so well written however I was disappointed that the cultural/religious references were top heavy for me. It stopped the flow of the narrative and I also found it difficult to really engage with the central characters. The cover of this book however-so inviting and while grateful for the opportunity to receive the book, I was somewhat disappointed in the story.


    • User: Janine Phillips

      Posted on: 05/01/2020 at 11:25 am

      I am 3/4 of the way through and also finding it hard going. I do agree with your comments. I am finding Karim very irritating.


  15. User: Janine Phillips

    Posted on: 04/01/2020 at 10:26 pm

    Halfway through and glad that I understand French x


  16. User: Harriet Steel

    Posted on: 30/12/2019 at 6:05 pm

    Me too and looking forward to reading it. Many thanks.


  17. User: Janine Phillips

    Posted on: 30/12/2019 at 1:07 pm

    Just received mine, thank you x


Enter the 2021TripFiction 'Sense of Place' Creative Writing Competition!

A story in which the location plays as important a role as the rest of your words.

2,500 word maximum, 750 word minimum

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