The Axeman’s Jazz by Ray Celestin

‘The Axeman’s Jazz’ is Ray Celestin’s brilliant debut novel and is partly based on the real ‘Axeman of New Orleans’ murderer who terrorised New Orleans and the surrounding areas in 1918 and 1919.

The story begins after a number of murders have already taken place and John Riley, a reporter with the New Orleans Times Picayune, publishes a letter that has been received from the Axeman. The letter gives a day and time that the next murder will be carried out and states that anyone with a Jazz band playing in their house will be left unharmed. The city, of course, partied that night.

Another of the main supporting characters in the book is the 18 year old Lewis ‘Louie’ Armstrong.

There are three people who set out separately to catch the Axeman. Detective Michael Talbot is in charge of the case for the New Orleans Police Department. He struggles to find leads and many in the department would like to see him fail. Years ago he testified against his former mentor Luca d’Andrea who was jailed for corruption. Michael also has a secret of his own that could see him jailed.

Luca d’Andrea has just been released from Angola Prison. With nowhere else to turn, he is back again with Mafia boss Carlo Matranga. The Mafia have their own reasons for wanting the Axeman caught.

Ida Davis is a young mixed race woman who works as a secretary at the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Never quite accepted among any one racial group, Ida spent her childhood reading detectives novels – Particularly Sherlock Holmes. She dreams of being a detective, but Pinkertons won’t allow her to move up. So, she is investigating the Axeman in her spare time with her only real friend – Lewis.

The three separate investigations close in on the Axeman from different directions.


The atmosphere that Celestin was able to create was brilliant. New Orleans in 1919 was segregated into various groups – Creoles, Blacks, Italians, Irish etc and could be a dangerous place. It applied laws in its own way and music could be heard any place at any time. The heat was oppressive and people were under constant threat from the Mississippi and from hurricanes. This was all brought to life for me and I found myself wanting to get to know the city and the characters.

At the end of the story two of the characters were perfectly set up to allow this book to be the first in a series. I’d love for this to become a series, but any further novels from Ray Celestin would be good!

Next in series ‘Dead Man’s Blues‘.


Book Published 2014


See a full list of books by Ray Celestin

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