Book Review #87- The Axeman’s Jazz

A demon in the shape of New Orleans – Ray Celestin.

This is a book that I have been reading on and off for over a month and a half. It never takes me that long to read a book, especially if it is a thriller that has gruesome murders, political agendas and diverse characters between its pages, not to mention the setting of the one and only New Orleans. Plus – and this is a big plus – the story is based on the true event of the Axeman murders in 1919 which immediately gripped me before I had even read the first page. The Axeman’s Jazz has all of the qualities that I adore about good crime reading, but for some reason (probably Blogtober which took over my life), I just didn’t pick it up as often as I would have liked!

The story entails the chase of a murderer that is both phantom and monster. He walks through walls, bludgeons his victims and leaves a tarot card in his wake. Nobody can find him, until three individuals separately start working the case day and night: Detective Lieutenant Michael Talbot, head of the police department, Michael’s former mentor Luca d’Andrea who works for The Family aka the mafia and Ida Davis, a secretary who dreams of working for the bureau. As each of them trail the murders and put together tiny pieces of the jigsaw, they begin to wonder just how complex and ruthless the entirety of the Hell that has descended on New Orleans is.

The closer I got to the crux of the story, of finding out the whos, the whats and the whys, the faster I read. All the inextricable threads of the investigation finally began to make sense and it wasn’t until I found out who the ghostly axeman was did I understand the motive and the reasoning behind the murders of what seemed to be random killings. I think a part of that is the reason it took me so long to read in the first place. The book isn’t a simple detective story; the kind where I’ve pinpointed the murderer from the second third. It had me guessing all the way through and even then I had to truly concentrate in order to understand the complexities of it all.

As for the setting of New Orleans? I am absolutely, irrevocably in love with it. New Orleans is very high on my wanderlust bucket list and so to read about it satiates me that little bit whilst I save the money to visit myself. Of course, it might be a lot different to the days of 1919, but the feeling of continuous music that transcends the city, the lights as the skies turn black and the bustling vibrancy that seems to party non-stop, I think, would be the exact same. My favourite parts of the writing were the descriptions of New Orleans, of its culture, its history, its insight into the ethers of voodoo; the way Ray Celestin also wrote about the segregated races with their own traditions and histories that each made New Orleans something magical, mysterious and full of worldwide customs, as if the city itself was the centre of the earth, where multiple nationalities were born were astounding pieces of writing. The descriptions made me feel as though I was a part of the city itself, no matter how treacherous or how dark it truly was.

For parts of the story, I admit that I glazed over, not fully understanding the sentences that were strung together. It is such a huge web of people, places and acts that I got lost in it and so didn’t fully follow the entire investigation. Perhaps the plot needed to be bulged out to fill pages; I don’t believe some of the characters were necessary to the plot or the murders. Some threads disappeared, or were too far flung apart that they didn’t make complete sense to me. As for the ending, I was a little disappointed. I felt a little like Ida, as though no justice was served, especially to those in power who tricked and deceived people who looked up to them – something that is relevant to any history, especially present day. Also, a key character who happened to be a favourite of mine through my respect for him met his end, rather than finally getting out of New Orleans and chasing a dream of his own. Although, that is me making assumptions. I’d like to hope that he survived and made it out alive.

All in all, The Axeman’s Jazz is a very intriguing tale of murder, a lively yet dark city and a political stance of hierarchy, greed and segregation.

Have you read the intricate debut by Ray Celestin?

Love, Faye xo

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