The Axeman's Jazz by Ray Celestin
New Orleans, 1919.
As Music Fills The City,
A Serial Killer Strikes…
The Axeman's Jazz is based on the real life mystery of the New Orleans based serial killer known as the axeman. Between 1918 and 1919 the axeman of New Orleans killed 6 people. To this day, the person responsible for the killings remains unknown. There are numerous suspects and historians have theorised several possible explanations for the unsolved case and yet it remains just that, an unsolved case.
The story is told from multiple different third person perspectives. The three main perspectives which are told throughout are those of Michael Talbot, Luca d'Andrea and Ida Davis & Louis Armstrong.
Detective Lieutenant Michael Talbot is in charge of the official investigation regarding the axeman killings. He is a hard working police officer who is disliked by the majority of his fellow officers due to his involvement in putting his corrupt mentor behind bars.
Luca d'Andrea is a former detective who has recently been released after serving 6 years in Angola. He had been an officer for many years but was imprisoned after his protégée Michael exposed his links to the New Orleans Mafia. He has been asked by the head of the New Orleans Mafia to investigate the axeman killings and to kill the person responsible before the police find them.
Ida Davis is a secretary at the Pinkerton Detective Agency with a penchant for Sherlock Holmes mysteries. With a hunch about the axeman killings Ida talks her friend Louis Armstrong into helping her with a real life investigation as they attempt to find out the truth behind the killings. And yes, it is that Louis Armstrong.
This is a brilliant book from start to finish. Every perspective is equally intriguing and the pacing keeps tension high throughout. I like the idea of all the perspectives being from different cultures, allowing them to find clues and explore areas that other characters can't enter due to the racial tensions of the time. It also adds to the tension and feeling of real danger when some characters do choose to cross over to the wrong side of town.
Things don't move quite as quickly as some other thrillers; there is plenty of time spent exploring post WW1 Louisiana, from the seedy brothels of Storyville to the remoteness of the shacks built in the bayou. The impact of the war and prohibition of both alcohol and prostitution are explored as are the racial tensions which arose from so many different cultures living in such close proximity and yet the story never feels like it is spinning it's wheels. Every description helps to set the scene and exploration of the history surrounding this time period helps to further the story, there is no filler for the sake of bulking things out.
This is a historical fiction. I want to highlight the fact that it is a work of fiction as it would appear from some reviews that this seems to have passed some people by. It is obvious that the author has done his research but the cold hard facts are not strictly stuck to. I have no issue with this, I read fiction primarily to be entertained. The facts which are contained in this novel are an interesting bonus but if I wanted to know simple truths I would be reading non fiction efforts about the time period instead. I have seen one review label this as a one star rating because the historical references are not 100% accurate. I found it baffling that somebody would take such issue with a work of fiction not being totally factual. Their main issue seemed to lie with the fact that the hurricane in 1919 hit New Orleans in September and not at the same time as the axeman killings were happening. Have we recalled all creative licenses from authors who base their works of fiction on real events? Talking of facts, the fact that famous jazz musician Louis Armstrong is playing detective in this one should have given it away that not everything contained in the pages of this book would be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Obviously as well as stretching the truth to create more excitement, this book also provides the authors take on who could have been responsible for the killings. Nobody was ever caught in real life so again the revelations in this book are a work of fiction based largely on fictional characters. I found the story compelling and I am extremely happy to hear that the author is working on a follow up novel which will contain some of the characters which have been introduced during this book. These are characters you will fall in love with and want to keep reading about. The dialogue is not authentic to the time or region yet I feel this is to the books benefit. An entire book filled with southern dialect of the time period would make for tougher reading and a lot of time would be spent by readers not from the region attempting to figure out what characters were trying to say. An accent is alluded to in the way some characters speak but dialogue is still kept accessible for all readers.
It feels like I have spent this whole review trying to address the issues that keep popping up in negative reviews and that i'm possibly trying to talk up a poor book. This is far from the case. In fact I would give this book a 5 out of 5 rating. Despite peoples issues with authentic dialogue and historical accuracy this book did everything I expected of it; It entertained me from beginning to end. I loved the descriptions of the setting, I enjoyed the factual tit bits that it offered (despite some inaccuracies there are also a lot of true aspects), I loved the characters and I was gripped by the story right through to the final sentences! After my disappointment with 'I Let You Go' I was extremely happy to find this one lived up to my high expectations.