(Reviewed by JD Jung)
The following was submitted to the Times-Picayune on May 6, 1919.
“…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…
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…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….”
Though the “Axeman” was never caught, this elusive serial killer has become a modern day legend and is featured in many stories. Remember the television series “American Horror Story – Coven”?
One such book is Ray Celestin’s novel The Axeman. However the actual case is only a sub-plot of the book.
Mutilated bodies are discovered in their homes. The first few are Italians. Luca D’Andrea, a New Orleans cop, was also on the mob’s payroll and subsequently convicted on corruption charges. Upon his release from prison, the Matrangas crime family wants him to find this killer before the police do.
Luca’s partner, Michael, is the officer that turned him in. Those in the police force despise him for that. Also, he is hiding the fact that he is married to a black woman. Unbeknownst to him, many have figured it out anyway. Michael is put on the case in hopes that he will fail and become the fall guy.
Ida, a young woman who can pass for white, works for the Remington Security Company as a receptionist. She wants more challenging and satisfying work and decides to find the Axeman herself. She is assisted by her friend, a cornet player name Lewis Armstrong. (Note the spelling of the first name).
As each of these people follow unique leads and have their own conjectures, we learn their personal histories as well as the ethnic and racial dynamics of New Orleans itself.
Though it was the topic of the Axeman , along with my interest in New Orleans history that led me to request this book, the characters and what happens to them is what kept my interest. Yes, there are a few characters who’s personalities I wish were delved into more, but the major ones were completely fleshed out.
The conclusion is satisfying and Ray Celestin is working on a novel centering on two of the “remaining” characters in another city.
If you enjoy New Orleans history and music, and/or a suspenseful plot and characters that are intertwined, then The Axeman may just be the book for you.