The Axeman's Jazz
Winner of the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger for Best Debut Crime Novel of the Year.
Shortlisted for the Theakston's Crime Novel of the Year Award
As recommended on the Radio 2 Arts Show with Claudia Winkleman
Inspired by a true story, set against the heady backdrop of jazz-filled, mob-ruled New Orleans, The Axeman's Jazz by Ray Celestin is a gripping thriller announcing a major talent in historical crime fiction.
New Orleans, 1919.As a dark serial killer - the Axeman - stalks the city, three individuals set out to unmask him:
Detective Lieutenant Michael Talbot - Heading up the official investigation, but struggling to find leads, and harbouring a grave secret of his own.
Former detective Luca d'Andrea - now working for the mafia; his need to solve the mystery of the Axeman is every bit as urgent as that of the authorities.
And Ida - a secretary at the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Obsessed with Sherlock Holmes and dreaming of a better life, she stumbles across a clue which lures her and her musician friend, Louis Armstrong, to the case - and into terrible danger . . .
As Michael, Luca and Ida each draw closer to discovering the killer's identity, the Axeman himself will issue a challenge to the people of New Orleans: play jazz or risk becoming the next victim.
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)
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