The Axeman's Jazz Paperback – 1 May 2014
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Debut novelist Ray Celestin has based his beguiling crime thriller on the true story of a serial killer who terrorised New Orleans for more than a year after the First World War. Beautifully written, the evocative prose brings the jazz-filled, mob-ruled 'Big Easy' of pre-prohibition America to life in glorious effect with a story full of suspense and intrigue. Stunning. * Sunday Express * A rewarding crime novel, swinging its way to a terrifying denouement with all the panache of a New Orleans marching band. This is an excellent debut, with a promise of more good mysteries to come. * The Times * Celestin smartly evokes the atmosphere of 1919 New Orleans, and a city dominated by music and the mob. Gripping. * Sunday Times * Inspired by the serial killer thought to have been responsible for 12 murders in New Orleans between 1918 and 1919, Ray Celestin's first novel, The Axeman's Jazz initially stays close to the known facts and includes a letter, published in the newspapers at the time, which was supposedly sent by the original Axeman. The writer, who, like the author of the famous 1888 "Jack the Ripper" letter, gives his address as "Hell", promises to claim his next victim at a specific date and time but says that he will spare those "in whose home a jazz band is in full swing". As with the Ripper, the real killer's identity remains unknown, and Celestin has three characters struggling to work out who he or she might be. Detective lieutenant Michael Talbot heads the official investigation; his former partner, Luca d'Andrea, recently freed from prison for corruption, is tasked by the mafia to discover whodunnit; and 19-year-old Sherlock Holmes fan Ida Davis, a secretary for the Pinkerton Detective Agency, decides to branch out on her own . . . Both a fascinating portrait of a vibrant and volatile city and a riveting read. * Guardian * Debut novelist Ray Celestin harnesses his trained scriptwriting eye for drama with the fascinating real-life story of the terrifying, Tarot card-touting Axeman in this atmospheric, high-tension thriller set in the broiling heat of the Deep South city that became the birthplace of jazz. Blending music, history and crime, Celestin builds a wickedly seductive and gripping tale as three people - one aided and abetted by a young, cornet-playing Louis Armstrong - set out to unmask the serial killer. The Axeman's Jazz was always going to be an ambitious project... delving deep into a true crime, blending a network of real and fictional characters and painting a portrait of an energetic, cosmopolitan city blighted by corruption and racism is a daunting challenge. But Celestin, the new kid on the block, has proved himself more than equal to the task. Using exceptional scene setting, zippy dialogue, a notably gutsy female lead and a mesmerising sense of time and place, he gets to the cruel heart of a savage crime and the musical soul of a sultry city . . . This is a thriller which doesn't just ask whodunit but why do the hunters need to know whodunit, and with the door left ajar for a sequel, we can look forward to more from this intriguing, intrepid author. * Lancashire Evening Post * This debut thriller pulses with the beat of New Orleans in 1919 when a real-life killer stalked the Big Easy, and was never caught. Now Celestin creates a thriller that's evocative of a city where voodoo and trad jazz go hand in hand in the back alleys off Basin Street. * Peterborough Telegraph * A brilliantly evoked roller coaster ride through pre-prohibition New Orleans - a town packed tight with jazz men and voodoo women, corrupt politicians and even more corrupt cops. This is historical fiction as time travel writing and a very difficult book to put down once started. * William Ryan, acclaimed author of the Captain Korolev series * Utterly compelling, soaked in the unique intoxicating atmosphere of the New Orleans of the period. Marvellous, engaging characters and the writing is pretty much pitch perfect * R. N. Morris * Smart, thrilling and dripping with class. A very special debut. * Malcolm Mackay, author of The Glasgow Trilogy * During a stormy summer in 1919 New Orleans, a serial killer is hacking seemingly random victims to death. This thriller, which blends voodoo, gangsters and jazz into an intoxicating mix, is based on a true story. * Sunday Mirror * Louis Armstrong is among those trying to track down a serial killer in the New Orleans of 1919 in Celestin's outstanding debut novel. * Daily Telegraph * Ray Celestin's exciting debut novel has covered all the bases - a clever and utterly believable procedural with a suitably grisly killer, set in a brilliant and vibrant historical background in one of the world's most multi-racial and fascinating societies. Inspired by a true story, he pulls no punches. His New Orleans, a year after the end of the First World War, is a truly nasty place, riddled with massive and endemic corruption, racism and organised crime all echoing the throbbing chords of the 'new' black music of blues and jazz . . . Celestin's characters are totally realistic, from the back street whores of Storyville to the opium-addicted reporter who knows far more than he should. But it is his ungarnished and, often deeply unflattering, descriptions of the people and the town itself which make this book such a memorable and genuinely compelling read. He maintains a mixture of hectic pace, horrifying brutality, social comment, first class historical detail and moments of surprising and genuine humanity right through to a totally genuine denouement set in a typical Louisiana gulf storm. And the mention of a certain Alphonse Capone in the epilogue promises more to come. * Crime Review * The Axeman's Jazz by Ray Celestin is the best debut I've read this year, and another slice of America in the first half of the 20th century: 1919 in New Orleans, the birth of the jazz era and the mafia holding their grip. A serial killer tale that captures its time and place with real style. * Scotsman Crime Books of the Year * Superb. * Guardian Crime Books of the Year * The serial axe-killer who terrified New Orleans in 1919 sent a letter to a newspaper explaining that "I am very fond of jazz music" and promising that any house in which jazz was being played would escape his murderous attention. That much is absolutely true. Celestin has skilfully woven around the facts a clever story of three detectives who, in different ways and for different motives, set out to find the murderer. He brilliantly portrays the mood of a city under a siege of fear. Fictional musicians mix with the real jazz artists of the period, not least Louis Armstrong. * The Times Crime Books of the Year * With such unlikely figures as Oscar Wilde being dragooned as sleuths in crime fiction, perhaps jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong is not such a stretch - Ray Celestin's debut novel places him as one of a group on the trail of a serial axe murderer in early 20th-century New Orleans. The Axeman's Jazz quickly gleaned awards, sporting an acute sense of period shored up by an evocation of the sound of early jazz - no easy thing on the printed page. There's a challenge for this writer: how does he follow this up? * Independent Crime Books of the Year *
New Orleans 1919. As music fills the city, a serial killer strikes . . . Inspired by a true story, Ray Celestin's The Axeman's Jazz is a sinister debut crime thriller. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.See all Product description
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The angle here is that there are four characters who stand to gain from finding the killer: Firstly Michael, the beleaguered detective who needs to please his boss and allay the fears of the frightened townsfolk (well, I guess that one’s a given). Secondly, ex-cop Luca, recently released from prison on a charge of corruption. With no means of income, he’s forced back into helping the Mafia who want the killer found before the cops get to him. Thirdly Ida, a pale-skinned Creole and general dogsbody at the Pinkerton Bureau who harbours aspirations of becoming a private eye. And lastly, the scoop-seeking journalist Riley, with issues of his own. So. The race to find the killer is on.
The setting of New Orleans with its evocative sights, sounds and vocabulary is a gift for novelists (one just has to see the word ‘bayou’ to be transported) but occasionally, Celestin allows himself to lapse into unnecessary passages which slow the pace. I liked the way he dismisses the cliché of white hats and black hats: his characters come in varying shades of grey and are therefore interestingly three-dimensional. And rather cleverly, he insinuates a young Louis Armstrong (here called Lewis) into the plot as Ida’s friend and sidekick. I understand this is the first of a four book series; it looks like Ray Celestin is onto a winner.
In this regard, the Axeman's Jazz is nearly five stars for me. The characterisation is excellent, and the range of characters across men and women and across racial differences is excellent. I loved the autobiographical elements of the book around Louis/Lewis Armstrong and I feel the book tackled some difficult issues around race then and now with grace and compassion.
The only negative for me was that I felt the plot ran out of steam and little towards the end, and I didn't feel the story hung together as well as it could have done when all said and done.
However, the writing quality, to my eyes, is fantastic. The rhythm of the narrative and the sympathy with human nature is very moving. I thoroughly recommend this book.
Horrific murders are happening and three disparate characters set out to unmask and stop the Axeman.
We have the 'cop' Michael Talbot disliked and distrusted by his colleagues after shopping his superior officer for nefarious dealings with the local mafia. He has a secret that forces his separation from others.
Then there is Luca, Michael's disgraced superior newly released from prison and once again working for the mafia, one last time.
And there is young Ida a secretary at the local Pinkertons office who sees more and understands more than her drink addled boss. Helping her is her lifelong friend, a certain talented cornet player called Lewis (Louis) Armstrong.
Each takes their own path, each puts themselves and those they care for in harms way and each finds their own conclusion.
It reminded me of The Untouchables, the film with Sean Connery in its bleakness. And it just kept raining.
I would definitely recommend this book.
The device of getting one real person totally worked and has had me looking them up for more information.
Would definitely read another
the killer is actually true life serial killer but the author has craft a clever story round it.
Interesting characters who draw you into a bygone time.
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