Title: The Axeman’s Jazz
Author: Ray Celestin
Series: City Blues Quartet #1
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 find 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 finds himself working with the mafia, whose need to solve the mystery of the Axeman is every bit as urgent as 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 trumpet-playing friend, Lewis ‘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…
Note: I read the German translation of this book. The German review can be found on my Goodreads account
The Axeman of New Orleans is a fascinating unsolved murder case that offers much room for speculation (there is just one suspect and it’s not entirely certain if he really existed) and an appropriately creepy letter that was sent to the newspaper. The sender claims to be the Axeman and says he won’t kill anybody the following Tuesday provided there’s Jazz playing in their house. There are no murders that night but they continue later, only to stop again completely a few months later. This is a story that cries out for a novel and I was excited to see how the author would work this case in his story.
The answer is: not at all, really. The book starts with the murders of Joseph and Catherine Maggio and we learn that they aren’t the first victims. There were others before them that were also killed with an ax. Tarot cards were left at every crime-scene and the Maggios had much more money in their home than you would expect from a couple of simple grocers.
In reality, the Maggios were the Axeman’s first victims. There were no Tarot cards and also no money. That fact-resistance continues: the non-deadly attack on Anna Schneider turns into a deadly attack on her and her husband. Joseph Romano suddenly has a wife and was murdered before the Maggios…these aren’t just small artistic licenses that one needs to take if they want to turn fact into exciting fiction. Instead, it makes me wonder why the author didn’t just invent a completely fictitious case if all he keeps are some names and the murder weapon.
The reason might be the Axeman’s letter. Celestine is so fond of it that it is printed twice in full length in the book. Or perhaps ‘Axeman’ on the cover is supposed to take in true crime-obsessed idiots like me.
Now even if you ignore that the author rather drags the name of people through the mud who were slaughtered less than 100 years ago (because in the book, none of the victims were innocent) than to simply make up a serial killer named The Butcher of Baton Rouge:
The book is bad.
None of the characters has any depth. They all come from completely different worlds (a corrupt Italian cop, a clean Irish one, Lewis Armstrong – yes, that one – his light-skinned mixed-race female friend and an opium-addicted journalist) but there’s barely any difference between them on-page. They stumble around, smoke, ask questions, smoke more, get beaten up, intimidated and locked up (by criminal masterminds that the whole underworld fears but who forget that there is still a set of hunting knives in the room they just locked them in), smoke even more and show no personality at all.
More than once I had to leaf back to check who the POV-character of the current chapter is. Everything sounds the same and even the long Jazz night reads as exciting and colourful as watching white paint dry. Additionally, in the first half, the plot gets constantly interrupted by flashbacks to things that happened to the characters before the start of the book. There were so frequent that I began wondering if the author wouldn’t have preferred to tell that story instead. Then, towards the end, there are some twists that are only surprising if you’ve never been in the same room with a crime-novel.
German ARC received from NetGalley