Book Review: "The Axeman's Jazz" by Ray Celestin
- by Señor Editor, 30 May 2014
In 1919, the people of New Orleans lived in fear, caused by a series of extremely brutal murders. The murderer was dubbed “The Axeman”, due to his weapon of choice. His famous letter to the press stated the date and time of his next attack, and added that the places that played jazz music that night, would be safe. He was never caught and his killing spree stopped without any explanation. These are the historical events that inspired writer Ray Celestin’s debut novel, “The Axeman’s Jazz”.
Ida Davis is a young secretary at Pinkerton’s Detective Agency, working under a boss whose main activity is getting drunk in his office every day. Ida is a light-skinned black woman, which makes her something of an outcast in both the black and the white New Orleans communities. She, too, wants to solve the case, and is helped by her childhood friend, the young jazz musician named Lewis (you may have heard of him – he later changed the spelling of his name to “Louis” and would sing about What a Wonderful World we live in).
The third protagonist is former detective Luca D’Andrea, who just got out of prison. Michael used to be his protégée, and is the man that reported his corrupt activities. Luca doesn’t hold a grudge, though. He wants to change his life and stop working for the Black Hand, but leaving the mafia isn’t easy. The family boss asks him a last favor – he wants Luca to solve the Axeman case, because the police, believing the mafia is involved, has been cracking down hard on them, and it’s hurting the business.
All of these characters are very compelling, and each of them is looking at a different part of the Axeman’s puzzle. Once Celestin’s book finishes, we will know both who the Axeman is, and which one of our heroes manages to stop him.
You could argue there’s a fourth hero in the book – New Orleans itself. Celestin is a British writer, but he must be one hell of a researcher, because he makes the city truly come to life in the book. Everything from the music, the language, the different communities and parts of the city, as well as New Orlean’s unique character, is so well described that it makes you feel like you’re really there. You can see the locations the characters are in, hear the jazz, experience the night life, the voodoo, and the rich Louisiana history as you turn the pages. And this book is a real page-turner. It passes the “I shouldn’t read this so fast, because I don’t want to leave the book’s world too soon” test. There are many real life events and characters mentioned in the book, and Celestin does an amazing job encapsulating the atmosphere of the city in early 20th century. His attention to detail is astounding, and elevates the book from “really good” to “fantastic”.
The suspense and the action are also handled masterfully. This is a thriller, and a good one at that. The Axeman himself remains in the background for most of the book, but you feel his presence, as everything the characters do concerns stopping him before he strikes again. And stopping him isn’t easy. Every ethnic group in the city has their own idea on who the murderer is, and the stories and gossip told about the Axeman only reinforce his legend. The tension in the city will reach its climax once the Axeman’s Night (the night of March 13, 1919, described in his letter) comes.
“The Axeman’s Jazz” is a fascinating thriller and a really impressive debut. Fans of crime books with a good dose of history should be instantly hooked, and anybody looking for a novel that sucks you right in, should give it a try, too. One of the best books to come out so far this year, Ray Celestin’s “The Axeman’s Jazz” is definitely worth getting!
“The Axeman’s Jazz” is published by Pan Macmillan and you can buy the book on the publisher’s website.
Have you read “The Axeman’s Jazz”? Planning to? Let us know in the comments!