Ayo Onatade is an avid reader of crime and mystery fiction. She has been writing reviews, interviews and articles on the subject for the last 12 years; with an eclectic taste from historical to hardboiled, short stories and noir films
Every once in a while a novel comes along that gives you a sharp kick and makes you want to re-read it again as soon as you have finished it. In this case the novel in question is Ray Celestin’s debut The Axeman’s Jazz.
The story of The Axeman’s Jazz begins when John Riley a journalist receives a letter in the newsroom from the killer who claims that when he passes through the city he will only spare those playing jazz.
There are a number of people that are interested in finding out who the Axeman really is. Detective Lieutenant Talbot of the New Orleans Police Department who is assigned to investigate the killings. Luca D’Andrea, a recently released prisoner, entangled with the Mafia whose boss wants him to find out who the Axeman really is and Ida a young secretary who is obsessed with Sherlock Holmes and who works at Pinkertons Detective Agency but who would rather be a detective herself. Ida also has Lewis “Louie” Armstrong the musician also helping her.
Told in three different strands but also told as one The Axeman’s Jazz is an incredibly well-written historical account of an actual serial killer known as the “Axeman” who, between 1918 and 1919, killed half a dozen people. All three so-called detectives find some sort of solution to the case and we the reader get to see this along with the whole situation that resulted in the creation of the Axeman.
From the start there is a sense of anticipation and as a reader you are drawn into a compelling story where various issues are at stake. Interwoven into the story are racial tensions, political and police corruption, child trafficking and abuse, the mob and the culture of slavery. The characterisation works well and there is a great sense of historical timing.
The Axeman’s Jazz is a thrilling and intelligent novel with an atmosphere of fear and mistrust which completely beguiles you. Blending a true fact with fiction is never easy but Ray Celestin manages to pull this off quite well from the introduction where we get to read the real letter that sparked everything off to the dénouement and the subtle hints of what we can expect from his follow up book. This is marvellous storytelling with a real sense of urgency and flair. More please!