Based on the real life murders in New Orleans during 1918-1919, The Axeman’s Jazz is a pulpy slice of true crime that rattles along at a brisk pace, neatly filling in the gaps between facts with entertaining and believable scenes.
Celestin populates the city with a motley crew of people that wouldn’t feel out of place in 1950’s noir. There’s the weary cop with the hidden secret, the mobster with dreams of getting out, the journalist with an addiction, the plucky young agent in search of meaning and most unexpectedly, Louis Armstrong himself. He describes the muggy and segregated New Orleans with relish, neatly capturing the atmosphere of the unusual city as it sits on the cusp of prohibition, as well as celebrating its the features that helped it grow into such a distinctive place – the diverse food, the notorious location and the groundbreaking and soulful music.
The unique selling point of The Axeman’s Jazz is not just its setting, but the aforementioned roster of characters. They all attempt to track down the titular axeman; whether to bring him to justice, make an example of him or simply just to find a good story. This gives us a great way of looking at the case, as no one character solves every facet of it. Each character uses his or her own methods and contacts to navigate their way through the city and follow leads coming to some form of conclusion, even if it is only the reader who can see it from all angles.
Like Alan Moore’s stunning examination of Jack the Ripper, it attempts to place the murders in a societal context, but lacks some of From Hell‘s meticulous cross-referencing and overwhelming attention to detail. That being said, it’s an awful lot of fun to read, and the prospect of a possible sequel in Chicago set during the rise of Al Capone will be enough to wet any crime reader’s appetite.