For a book about someone killing people with axes, this isn’t the most interesting book I’ve read….this week. This is the story of a New Orleans serial killer who targeted primarily Italian shopkeepers in the early 20th century.
This book is drenched with a time in the country in which anti-Italian sentiment was pretty strong, and this book investigates that aspect of these crimes. But it oversells the “racial” dynamic of these crimes. As weird and sad as these crimes are, the real miracle is that some poor black man wasn’t falsely accused of them. In fact, the witnesses keep mentioning that their assailant was white.
Anyway, something is not great about this book. It barely hangs together as a cohesive story, and I think that’s the real problem. There’s not really enough evidence presented in this book to suggest that these crimes are all that connected. The author goes to some length to talk about what investigative approaches would have been different and what should have been done, but also spends a lot of time weighing in on the evidence, but doesn’t actually have all the evidence available either and probably reaches too far out to make assertions about what it means. But the book has to hang on something. There anti-Italian sentiment is too sold in this one, the crimes are interesting but not necessarily connected, the would-bes and what-ifs are too forward, and ultimately this feels like a passion project that was built out of an article or a love of local lore instead of something substantive.