The Axeman’s Jazz – Ray Celestin – review




“New Orleans, 1919. As music fills the city, a serial killer strikes . . .

New Orleans, 1919. As a dark serial killer – The Axeman – stalks the city, three individuals set out to unmask him . . .

Though every citizen of the ‘Big Easy’ thinks they know who could be behind the terrifying murders, Detective Lieutenant Michael Talbot, heading up the official investigation, is struggling to find leads. But Michael has a grave secret, and if he doesn’t get himself on the right track fast, it could be exposed . . .

Former detective Luca d’Andrea has spent the last six years in Angola state penitentiary, after Michael, his protégée, blew the whistle on his corrupt behaviour. Now a newly freed man, Luca is back working with the mafia, whose need to solve the mystery of the Axeman is every bit as urgent as that of the authorities.

Meanwhile, Ida is a secretary at the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Obsessed with Sherlock Holmes and dreaming of a better life, Ida stumbles across a clue which lures her and her musician friend, Louis Armstrong, to the case – and into terrible danger . . .

As Michael, Luca and Ida each draw closer to discovering the killer’s identity, the Axeman himself will issue a challenge to the people of New Orleans: play jazz or risk becoming the next victim. And as the case builds to its crescendo, the sky will darken and a great storm will loom over the city . . .

Inspired by a true story, THE AXEMAN’S JAZZ, set against the heady backdrop of jazz-filled, mob-ruled New Orleans, is an ambitious, gripping thriller announcing a major new talent in historical crime fiction.”

4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Set in New Orleans in 1919 The Axeman’s Jazz is based on an actual murderer, dubbed ‘The Axeman’ who was viciously killing families in their homes, leaving the axe used behind at the scene. He wrote to the local newspaper declaring he would commit more murders unless every house and building was playing Jazz on a particular evening. The actual letter written is recounted in the book. As the murders continue Michael Talbot, a police detective, Luca d’Andrea, his former mentor and Ida, a secretary at the Pinkerton Detective Agency who has dreams of becoming a detective herself, all embark on their own investigations to unmask the killer.

I loved the layout of this book. Each chapter alternates between a character, usually Michael, Luca and Ida, with each one developing the story in a slightly different way. Each character is well defined and they develop with each chapter, along with the investigation. As well as the main characters, there were a host of brilliantly drawn side characters, a young Louis Armstrong being one of them.

I was easily transported back in time to pre-Prohibition Louisiana. The racial tensions of that time were keenly highlighted, being integral to the story. The melting pot of people that New Orleans was, set when segregation was still a part of life, with the heady mix of Creoles, Cajuns, Italians, Blacks and Whites all coming together, causing clashes, racial tension and suspicion, was excellently detailed. The streets of New Orleans were brought to life, matching how I imagined the city to be at that point in history.  The descriptions of the city, the bayou and the surrounding areas were vivid, I could easily imagine myself walking down the French Quarter, trudging through the swamps abutting the city, or being swept up in the maelstrom of the hurricane that hits the city with such devastating force.

The murder mystery itself is well paced, with enough red herrings and clues to ensure that the story didn’t feel dragged out. I soon reached that lovely phase in reading a great book, where as a reader I wanted to continue reading the story, but I didn’t want that story to end. I was left hoping that we would see more of Michael and Ida and that we will be treated to more of their investigations.

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