The Axeman's Jazz

This historical murder mystery (427 pages) was published in May of 2014 by Mantle. The book takes you to 1919 New Orleans. Melissa read The Axeman's Jazz and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

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The Axeman's Jazz

Ray Celestin

Step into 1919 New Orleans, where the weather is hot, the jazz is cool, and the good citizens of this difficult, enchanting city are being stalked by a serial killer known as the Axeman.

Although this book is fiction, the story of the Axeman is not. For more than a year, the city was terrorized by a mysterious figure who entered homes in the dead of night, then attacked people in their beds. All told, a dozen people ran afoul of the Axeman. Half of them died, and the other half lived to tell the tale, but no one could accurately describe him.

In a letter he wrote to the newspaper, the Axeman claimed to be a supernatural being and warned that he expected to hear jazz playing throughout the city on the following Tuesday night: ‘I swear by all the devils in the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose home a jazz band is in full swing… One thing is certain, and that is that some of your people who do not jazz it out on that specific Tuesday night… will get the axe.’

In real life, the identity of the Axeman is still unknown. In this book, author Ray Celestin uses a handful of well-drawn characters to investigate the murders and present his own fictional theory of the Axeman’s identity.

There’s Michael, the detective lieutenant with the police department who’s heading up the investigation. He carries the weight of the city’s expectations and his own enormous secret. Luca is a former cop. He’s also a convict who was just released from the state pen — and Michael helped put him there.

And Ida. Oh, Ida! She’s secretary to a Pinkerton detective and best friend to Louis Armstrong when he was just Lewis. She’s got moxie in spades. She’s determined to identify the Axeman and become a full-fledged Pinkerton.

Jazz-age New Orleans was literally a hotbed of sexism, racism, and corruption. It was also a fantastic place to blend cultures and enjoy the best food and music in the world. As our three would-be heroes interview suspects and follow clues, they’re in and out of jazz shows, bordellos, opium dens, and mafia hideouts. They traipse into the bayou, through a mouldering plantation house, and deep into the dark underbelly of a roiling, raucous city to nab a madman.

Luca hadn’t been expecting his return to New Orleans to be an easy experience. He knew the city was no paradise; it was violent and unforgiving, awash with criminals and immigrant communities that treated one another with hostility and suspicion. But it was also a city with a beguiling energy to it, a bright and opulent charm. For all its segregation and spite, its shabby streets and faded glory, it was easy to become bewitched by the city of New Orleans. — Ray Celestin

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