Ray Celestin

The Axeman’s Jazz

"As with a fine Bourbon, this novel is one to savour and relish at a leisurely pace."


It is 1919 and New Orleans is under the threat of a killer who many say is no more than the Devil himself, released from Hell to wreak his own kind of justice. People whisper that this killer can walk through walls, get in to people’s houses without disturbing windows or needs to open locked doors before delivering a deadly blow of his axe to their heads. His moniker is a Tarot card placed in the crevice where his axe fell, leading to murmurs of ‘Voodoo’ practices.

Three people are determined to find this bizarre killer. Detective Lieutenant Michael Talbot is heading the investigation and already feels he is chasing after nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Talbot has his own secrets and knows that many people, good or ill are keeping a close eye on him. Some want him to succeed and others would like nothing better than to see him fail after what he did to one of their own.

Luca d’Andrea is fresh out of prison after serving his sentence. His crime was to be a bent cop, in the pay of the Mafioso. And the man who betrayed him was his protégé, Michael Talbot. Now d’Andrea is free but very soon working for his old employers to find out who is killing Italians in New Orleans. Having lost all his money, he can’t afford to upset the Mafioso and so he decides to accept one more job before returning back to Italy.

Ida has dreams of bettering herself. Bored at Pinkerton’s Detective Agency she enlists the help of her friend, the black musician, Lewis Armstrong to check out some leads about the Axeman murders. As they dig deeper they soon realise they may well have got in over their heads in a case that is far reaching than they could ever have imagined.

Everything comes to a head on a wet evening when a storm hits New Orleans and the river bursts its banks. Nature turns against a city in turmoil and is ready to wipe the slate clean.

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The Axeman’s Jazz’ is a very dense novel and certainly cannot be rushed. You feel that Celestin has taken a great deal of time to set the scene and New Orleans certainly came alive for me, although there were times when I felt I was being given a little too much information. For me, this took away rather than added to the sense of New Orleans that the author was trying to obtain. The segregation of different races and cultures was quite shocking to read about. Celestin utilises the dialogue of those days and uses some derogatory words that would have been liberally used back then. It does add to the flavour of those times but may jar with some readers. Despite his failings, I found myself engaging the most with d’Andrea out of the three protagonists. Freshly out of prison he is a complex man who, unexpectedly during his investigation, finds some inner peace and joy. Is it to last? You always find that with men such as d’Andrea peace never lasts long when you have as many skeletons in his closet as this man. The strand of the investigation I least engaged with was Ida’s. I can’t explain why although I felt her part of the investigation wasn’t as ‘controlled’ as the other two strands. With her friend, Lewis Armstrong it gives Celestin a good hook to thread the ‘Jazz’ theme throughout his story allowing the novel its own soundtrack. ‘The Axeman’s Jazz’ is truly an original novel and one that needs time and dedication which will reward you in the long run. As with a fine Bourbon, this novel is one to savour and relish at a leisurely pace.

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