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“Ray Celestin skillfully depicts the desperate revels of that idiosyncratic city and its bizarre legends in his first novel, THE AXEMAN.” — The New York Times Sunday Book Re...
“Ray Celestin skillfully depicts the desperate revels of that idiosyncratic city and its bizarre legends in his first novel, THE AXEMAN.” — The New York Times Sunday Book Review (Marilyn Stasio, Crime Columnist)
The Axeman stalks the streets of New Orleans…
In a town jammed with voodoo and gangsters, a sense of intoxicating mystery often beckons from the back alleys. But when a real serial killer roams the sultry nights, even the corrupt cops can’t see the clues. That is, until a letter from the Axeman himself is published in the newspaper, proclaiming that any home playing jazz music will be spared in his next attack.
Such brass invites a chase, and not just from the cryptic detective running the show. The New Orleans of 1919 is a place like no other, where the corruption runs deep and the bourbon rolls smooth, and control of this city is a prize only a fool would give up. Based on a true story, The Axeman brings to life a vibrant, volatile New Orleans filled with as much desperate ambition as utter fear.
New Orleans, May 1919
John Riley stumbled into the offices of the New Orleans Times–Picayune an hour and a half after he was supposed to have started work....
New Orleans, May 1919
John Riley stumbled into the offices of the New Orleans Times–Picayune an hour and a half after he was supposed to have started work. He sat at his desk, took a long, slow breath, and raised his eyes to peer about the room. Even in his befuddled state he could see his colleagues stealing glances at him, and he wondered exactly how unkempt he must look. He had been out the night before, at his usual spot on Elysian Fields Avenue, and he raised a hand to his face to make sure he wasn’t still perspiring. When his fingers rubbed against a stubble at least two days old, he felt a pang of regret for not having sought out a mirror before his arrival.
He looked at his desk, and his gaze landed on his typewriter. Its black metal frame, its crescent of type bars, its levers and keys all made the thing seem daunting somehow, cold and hard and otherworldly, and he realized he wasn’t in a fit enough state to start writing just yet. He’d need a few coffees, a packet of cigarettes, and maybe a lunchtime brandy before he was ready to tackle anything requiring a fully functioning brain, so he decided to kill what was left of the morning with something that approximated work. He rose and stumbled over to the in tray where the letters to the editor were kept. He grabbed as many as he could, cradling them against his chest, and returned to his seat.
There was the usual correspondence from irate residents, people with complaints, know-it-alls, and those who used the letters page as a forum for arguing with one another. He selected a few of the longer diatribes to print, as they filled up the page more easily, then he sifted through the letters from people who claimed to have seen the Axeman. Since the killings had started a few months ago, the office had been inundated with letters from concerned residents who swore they had seen him on his way to some murder or other. Riley sighed and wondered why these people sent these things to the newspaper and not the police department. He lit a cigarette and picked up the last letter in the pile. It was an unusual-looking envelope, rice-paper thin, with no sender details, and the newspaper’s address was written on it in a spidery scrawl of badly splattered, rust-colored liquid he hoped was ink. He took a drag on his cigarette and opened it with a fingernail.
Hell, May 6th, 1919
They have never caught me and they never will. They have never seen me, for I am invisible, even as the ether that surrounds your earth. I am not a human being, but a spirit and a demon from the hottest hell. I am what you Orleanians and your foolish police call the Axeman.
When I see fit, I shall come and claim other victims. I alone know whom they shall be. I shall leave no clue except my bloody ax, besmeared with blood and brains of he whom I have sent below to keep me company.
If you wish you may tell the police to be careful not to rile me. Of course, I am a reasonable spirit. I take no offense at the way they have conducted their investigations in the past. In fact, they have been so utterly stupid as to not only amuse me, but His Satanic Majesty, Francis Josef, etc. But tell them to beware. Let them not try to discover what I am, for it were better that they were never born than to incur the wrath of the Axeman. I don’t think there is any need of such a warning, for I feel sure the police will always dodge me, as they have in the past. They are wise and know how to keep away from all harm.
Undoubtedly, you Orleanians think of me as a most horrible murderer, which I am, but I could be much worse if I wanted to. If I wished, I could pay a visit to your city every night. At will I could slay thousands of your best citizens, for I am in close relationship with the Angel of Death.
Now, to be exact, at 12:15 (earthly time) on next Tuesday night, I am going to pass over New Orleans. In my infinite mercy, I am going to make a little proposition to you people. Here it is:
I am very fond of jazz music, and I swear by all the devils in the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose home a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have just mentioned. If everyone has a jazz band going, well then, so much the better for you people. One thing is certain and that is that some of your people who do not jazz it on Tuesday night (if there be any) will get the ax.
Well, as I am cold and crave the warmth of my native Tartarus, and it is about time I leave your earthly home, I will cease my discourse. Hoping that thou wilt publish this, that it may go well with thee, I have been, am, and will be the worst spirit that ever existed either in fact or realm of fancy.
Riley took a drag on his cigarette, put the letter down, and wondered if its author really was the Axeman, and if not, who the hell else would send something like that to the paper? Authentic or not, it’d be a sin not to print it. Riley grinned and rose, and his colleagues turned to look at him as he marched toward the editor’s office. He didn’t care to wonder if he should tell the authorities before going to press—in instances like this, it was better to ask for forgiveness than for permission. They’d print it, and the city would read it, and a chaos would descend, and New Orleans might well spiral into the greatest night it had ever seen.
““Ray Celestin skillfully depicts the desperate revels of that idiosyncratic city and its bizarre legends in his first novel, THE AXEMAN.” — The New York Times Sunday Book Review...
““Ray Celestin skillfully depicts the desperate revels of that idiosyncratic city and its bizarre legends in his first novel, THE AXEMAN.” — The New York Times Sunday Book Review (Marilyn Stasio, Crime Columnist)
” - The New York Times Sunday Book Review
“Celestin’s atmospheric debut uses this unsolved case as the axis for his engaging historical suspense novel.” - Booklist
“Celestin deftly weaves the rich history of New Orleans into the multiple plot lines while highlighting racial prejudice and political corruption that are more appalling than the Axeman’s crimes. In sum, this is a tasty bowl of gumbo with a side of dirty rice.” - Publishers Weekly
“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
Length: 8.25 in
Width: 5.5 in
Weight: 0.00 oz
Page Count: 448 pages