The Axeman’s Jazz Ray Celestin
Rarely do I pick up a book based on a true event that I have never heard of; this book sent me on a bit of a hike through the internet researching the facts of a series of crimes which took place in New Orleans just after the end of the First World War, The New Orleans Axe Killer Murders, for that alone the Axe Mans Jazz was worth reading, but that’s not the only reason, this book is brilliant.
Set in 1919 the story centres on the hunt an Axeman who is killing couples in the dead of the night, unsurprisingly with an axe.
Three separate inquiries are carried out by the central characters, all cleverly and logically woven together, bringing the book to an exciting end.
Detective Michael Talbot leads the New Orleans Police investigation. Talbot is an outcast amongst his fellow officers and struggles with a personal secret.
Luca D’Andrea, an ex-detective who is released from prison at the start of the book and investigates the murders on behalf of the Mafia.
Ida Davis a young mixed race girl who works for a Detective agency, but takes on the investigation on her own, to prove to her boss she is capable. Ida has a friend who helps her, a young Jazz Musician called Lewis (Louis) Armstrong; and yes it is that one.
Ray Celestin has written an excellent book. He has taken known facts, including a letter purportedly written by the murderer and published in a local paper, and woven them into a story that held me captivated from the start. His description of New Orleans transported me to the city in the early 20th Century. At times he draws comparisons between 1919 New Orleans and Victorian London, and of course between these murders and those of Jack the Ripper.
His characters fit so well into the story, and are so right for the time it is set in; I wondered whether they were all based on real people. The Lewis Armstrong character is heavily based on the early life of the legendary Louis Armstrong and much of the book revolves around bars and boats where he played in his early career.
The book covers the uncomfortable issue of the racism of the time well. It is clever tool that Celestin uses by having white, black and mixed race characters as the spine of his story, allowing the reader to be taken to any quarter of the city.
Celestin uses a tropical storm to bring the story to an end, like the storm itself the last part of the book builds into an intense crescendo, and like a storm once it has gone a calm settles.
It’s clever, the real Axeman Murderer was never identified but the killings did stop following the storm. Celestin uses a bit of literary licence to let the storm tidy up some lose ends but nothing that distracts from the story.
This is Ray Celestin’s first novel. I’m looking forward to his next.
If you haven’t read The Axemans Jazz yet, I envy you. All I can say is pour yourself a bourbon, put Jazz FM on the radio and cancel any appointments you’ve got for a couple of days. You are going to love it