The Axeman’s Jazz – Ray Celestin

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First and foremost, a big thanks to Sophie Orme @Sophiemorme  Senior editor at Mantle, Pan Macmillan for sending me a copy of this book. It was through a tweet of hers that I had first heard of this.

Book Description

New Orleans, 1919. As a dark serial killer – The Axeman – stalks the city, three individuals set out to unmask him . . .

Though every citizen of the ‘Big Easy’ thinks they know who could be behind the terrifying murders, Detective Lieutenant Michael Talbot, heading up the official investigation, is struggling to find leads. But Michael has a grave secret, and if he doesn’t get himself on the right track fast, it could be exposed . . .

Former detective Luca d’Andrea has spent the last six years in Angola state penitentiary, after Michael, his protégée, blew the whistle on his corrupt behaviour. Now a newly freed man, Luca is back working with the mafia, whose need to solve the mystery of the Axeman is every bit as urgent as that of the authorities.

Meanwhile, Ida is a secretary at the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Obsessed with Sherlock Holmes and dreaming of a better life, Ida stumbles across a clue which lures her and her musician friend, Louis Armstrong, to the case – and into terrible danger . . .

As Michael, Luca and Ida each draw closer to discovering the killer’s identity; the Axeman himself will issue a challenge to the people of New Orleans: play jazz or risk becoming the next victim. And as the case builds to its crescendo, the sky will darken and a great storm will loom over the city . . .

Inspired by a true story, THE AXEMAN’S JAZZ, set against the heady backdrop of jazz-filled, mob-ruled New Orleans, is an ambitious, gripping thriller announcing a major new talent in historical crime fiction.

Review

During my crime reading phase this past 12 months, nothing has appealed to me more than the idea of 1919 New Orleans and a jazz loving, axe wielding, serial killer.

The novel follows its three main characters, Michael, Luca and Ida, on the hunt for the mysterious axe man and takes the reader down three different lines of enquiry. Michael is by the book, Luca is rough around the edges but smart, and Sherlock Holmes Obsessive Ida tries out her own powers of deduction. Each of these paths are, at times, a tense and exciting ride, with you slipping into a rat race mentality to find out who, If any, will catch their man first. Ray could have been forgiven if he had decided to only lead with two out of the three and it would still have been an engrossing tale, but to have three different perspectives on one case will place this well ahead of any other debut to be released this year.

This book ticks a lot of boxes. The characters are personally flawed, like all good crime novels, because of their experiences, or in Ida’s case, a lack of. The only sore point for me of this entire novel was the inclusion of Ida’s young sidekick, Louis Armstrong. I didn’t really feel like Louis Armstrong would have investigated crime in his younger days. The character was written very well and his experiences as a musician gave the story more depth but I felt as though he could have been a nameless musician and making him the Ambassador Satch himself, took away from the character rather that added to it.

This is a fantastic debut full of educated twists and turns in a well-structured 1919’s New Orleans setting and hopefully the inclusion of the Axeman in the hit TV series American Horror Story, will fuel interest in this book. I’m looking forward to Ray’s future work and hope he can build on the success of this brilliant opener.

The Axeman’s Jazz will be published on by Mantle, Pan Macmillian 8th May 2014

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First and Only – Dan Abnett *Black Library Classics*

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It took me a while to give The Black Library a try. I’ve never been a fan of Warhammer, the table top miniature war-game produced by Games Workshop, and also of Military Science Fiction, so for the first few years of reading SF it was pretty much out of sight out of mind. I also lumbered these novels as “Tie-ins” which sometimes can be rushed to make a quick buck. After dispelling some missed placed prejudices about Black Library after being recommended “The Horus Heresy” by anyone into military SF I was so surprised by the level of quality not only in the brilliantly described war zones but in character and story development too. I admit I was wrong and in a time where new and exciting Science Fiction comes few and far between for me, it’s good to have in the back of my mind that Black Library produces high quality SF/F without becoming completely obsessed with it.

One of the most popular authors is Dan Abnett. I’ve read Hours Rising and a stand-alone novel called Embedded and was impressed with each, so when I saw Black Library were producing three stunning Classics which include Dan’s first published novel “First and Only” I had to give it a try.

The ‘First and Only’ of the title is the Tanith First and Only division of the Imperial Guard. They are led by Ibrahim Gaunt and are involved in the Sabbat Worlds Crusade, an ambitious mission by the Empire of Man to bring peace and defeat the forces of Chaos in the Sabbat Worlds of the 41st millennium. The First and Only got their unique moniker because the world of Tanith was destroyed by the forces of Chaos shortly after the Imperium called for a regiment to be created. Under Gaunt’s command, the First and Only has earned the nickname the Ghosts and has become a respected force in the Imperial Guard.

For the first ever black Library novel I think it is certainly the best I’ve read so far. Gaunt is a fantastic character and I became so caught up with the cast; it placed me further on to the edge of my seat. The first 100 pages is pretty much warfare and even though the battle is beautifully and violently described I didn’t connect with anyone apart from Gaunt until much later. I think that was purposefully done. I thought it showed Gaunt as a lone, near perfect, fighter capable of liberating worlds with a command. It’s not until he is challenged did I see how much the “Ghosts” around him come to life.

Dan Abnett’s novels for the Black Library have sold more than a million copies and this book takes us back to where it all began. This is a great introductory novel for fans of military science fiction that may not yet be familiar with the Warhammer 40,000 setting.

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James Crumley – The Last Good Kiss

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James Crumley – The Last Good Kiss (1978)

For the past year, about 80% of my reading time has been dedicated to crime fiction. SF and horror have taken the back seat to the likes of Jim Thompson, Ross Macdonald, Jo Nesbo, Izzo, Ian Rankin and more, but after reading this, I feel I can finally step away for a while and explore something else. I have just finished James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss, the best crime book I’ve read so far.

Blurb:

Tough, hard-boiled, and brilliantly suspenseful, The Last Good Kiss is an unforgettable detective story starring C. W. Sughrue, a Montana investigator who kills time by working at a topless bar. Hired to track down a derelict author, he ends up on the trail of a girl missing in Haight-Ashbury for a decade. The tense hunt becomes obsessive as Sughrue takes a haunting journey through the underbelly of America’s sleaziest nightmares.

As soon as I opened the first page, I was met with this line

“When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside Sonoma California, drinking the heart out of a fine spring afternoon.”

I was hooked and determined to write down every passage that made me groan with jealousy and awe but I had to give up on that idea quite early on. It’s just too quotable.

The book opens with C.W. Sughrue, A private investigator hired to find an eccentric writer called Abraham Trahearne by his ex-wife. After weeks of searching, Sughrue finally catches up with the writer after learning about his strange affinity for bar dogs, which leads him to Fireball and of course Trahearne.

“Whenever I found anybody, I always suspected that I deserved more than money in payment. This was the saddest moment of the chase, the silent wait for the apologetic parents or the angry spouse or the law. The process was fine, but the finished product was always ugly. In my business, you need a moral certitude that I no longer even claimed to possess and, every time, when I came to the end of the chase I wanted to walk away.”

After a misunderstanding, which leads to Trahearne taking a slug in the arse, the owner of the bar asks C.W to look for her daughter, who has been missing in San Francisco for ten years. She stepped out of her boyfriend’s car and was never seen again. Sughrue eventually accepts the case even though he feels it’s pointless and not worth the measly $85 he’s paid but it’s all the mother has and Trahearne is willing to fund the search for a few more days away from his mother and ex-wife. What follows is full of twists and turns, pint bottles of vodka and Femme Fatales that will hold you to the very last word.

Crumley nails every character to the point of tears. As Sughrue and Trahearne look for the runaway Betty-Sue Flowers, it becomes clear that they’re all running from something. Sughrue tries to outweigh his own feelings of inferiority by telling himself he’s happy with the mundane life of a PI, who has to support himself by working in bars when work is slow. Trahearne tries to run from his infidelities, alcoholism and his thought that the last line he wrote could be his last.

In a strange way, I came out of this book with optimism. It revels in celebration at the obstacles Sughrue must face. The complexity of the story, the flawed and damaged characters makes this seem timeless. I’ve only just finished the book so it will be interesting to see how I feel about it in the upcoming weeks and months but for now, this is the most absorbing and on-point piece of pulp crime fiction I have read. You owe it to yourself to try it.

“Stories are like snapshots, pictures snatched out of time, with clean hard edges. But life always begins and ends in a bloody muddle, womb to tomb, just one big mess, a can of worms left to rot in the sun.”

As this is unavailable as an ebook, you will have to go to a bookshop. You never know, you might like it.

James Arthur Crumley was the author of violent hardboiled crime novels and several volumes of short stories and essays, as well as published and unpublished screenplays.

The edition I read was part of the Vintage Crime series from Black Lizard.

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StephenKing.com Announces “Mr Mercedes”

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Mr. Mercedes has now been officially announced on King’s official site. The release date is set to June 3rd 2014. He calls it his first hard-boiled detective book about a deranged terrorist with a bomb. King said he began it before the Boston Marathon bombing, but the events were “too creepy for comfort.”

As I can’t seem to get enough of the hard-boiled genre, This has excited me more than the announcement for Doctor Sleep and I can only hope that it matches the level of emotion of, hard case crime outing, Joyland

Who knows how good it will be but with a release date of early June us Constant Readers wont have to long to find out

Check out Cemetery Dance for a special slip cased edition. I got their 25th anniversary of IT which was stunning.

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Total Chaos – Jean-Claude Izzo review

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“None of us have known what to do with our lives. Cop or robber, it makes no difference”

A former colleague of mine and someone I have a lot of respect for as a real bookseller’s bookseller, is known for his healthy obsession with indie publishers and publisher themed tables. Not everyone within our ranks likes these displays but I find myself unable to keep my eyes of them and neither can customers. One of my favourites is the Europa Edition table because it instantly draws your eye with interesting covers that capture your imagination. I don’t do enough digging, when it comes to picking a book, and tend to go for the more mainstream option so it’s good to be shown something outside the top 100 every now and then. It was on this table, while I was browsing, that an elderly gentlemen tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to Total Chaos.

“That’s the one you want” He said and began to tell me that it was a book he keeps with him while traveling. I’m glad for your recommendation, sir…extremely glad

Total chaos follows Fabio Montale, a suburban-Marseille detective, who sees his two closest childhood friends die one-by-one in violent circumstances. One was killed without anyone knowing why; the other was killed immediately after assassinating one of the leaders of the local underworld. Montale tries to understand what happened and gradually discovers a tangle of interests and power struggles within the Marseilles underworld and police. Fabio is drawn by a promise the three friends made to watch out for one another no matter what feet he treads on or what rules they may break, this draws him into the dark heart of the city he lives in as he finds who wanted his friends dead.

I hope a mainstay of crime fiction will find a lot to enjoy here. Classic Noir themes and beautiful description and dialogue makes each page savoured, not just turned. The city itself comes to life as the dark corners and seedy bars invite you to know more. Luckily for me, and you if you decide to try this, there are two more books in the Marseilles trilogy and I can only hope they’re anywhere near as good as this one. I’m relatively new to the crime genre but in the past year of nearly solidly reading the likes of Rankin, MacDonald, Thompson and Nesbo, Izzo easily measures up. However I would describe him, compared to most crime I’ve read, as a glass of red wine in amongst tumbler’s of whiskey. He’s dark as the best of them, but the way in which he wrote gives you a much smoother experience.  Izzo’s writing to some can be style over substance but Fabio’s thoughts at times are just as interesting as the case itself.

The Marseilles Trilogy is published by Europa Editions as part of their World Noir series

JEAN-CLAUDE IZZO was born in Marseilles, France, in 1945. He achieved immediate success with his Marseilles Trilogy. His two other novels (The Lost Mariners and The Sun of the Dying) and one collection of short stories (Living Tires) also continue to enjoy popularity with both critics and the public. Izzo died in 2000 at the age of fifty-five.

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Doctor Sleep – Stephen King Book Review

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‘Stay away from the woman in the hat, Honeybear.’

‘She’s the Queen bitch of Castle Hell. If you mess with her, she’ll eat you alive.’

If you have read my earlier post, leading up to the release of Doctor Sleep, you know that while I was looking forward to reading, macabre maestro, Stephen King’s latest offering, I wasn’t as excited as I normally am for one of his new books. I’ve been a “Constant reader” for the last ten years and, while he is one of my favourite authors, betting on a winning horse just isn’t quite the same as the discovery of a hidden gem. It’s must be a similar feeling to supporting a team who constantly wins, but after finishing book 64, there isn’t anything quite like THIS winning horse. There’s nobody that can touch a nerve like Stephen King.

Doctor Sleep picks up with the now middle aged Danny Torrance following in the footsteps of his father…an alcoholic. Like father, like son. Dan’s justification is that the booze suppresses his “Shining”, his supernatural abilities that plague his everyday life and rules his nightmares. The drink holds back the ghosts of The Overlook.

Dan eventually lands in rural New Hampshire and begins working in a hospice where, with the help of the hospice cat Azzie, he helps the elderly pass on with his ‘Shining’ ability. This earns him the nickname Doctor Sleep and with regular AA meetings and good people around him, Dan finally has all he really wants.

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless – mostly old and married to their RVs. The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the ‘steam’ that children with the ‘shining’ produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Dan meets Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining he’s ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival.

A few things make this book great, King’s own battle against drug and alcohol addiction makes Dan’s AA scenes completely believable, as are Dan’s thoughts towards the drink and himself. King books are known for giving nods towards his other works but even though they’re still there, the biggest nod goes to his son’s fantastic horror novel NOS4R2, which sent a shiver up my spine.

King is, and probably will always be, my favourite author. His characters breathe the same air we do and even though most of their road blocks are based in supernatural settings, the ways in which they have to deal with them are entirely human.

This book will attract some negativity because The Shining is so well loved, but Doctor Sleep is a brilliant sequel. The author is a completely different person to the drug filled alcoholic who sat down to write about Jack and the Outlook Hotel as are his constant readers and the thought of King evolving his style and outlook on the craft excites this constant reader

Doctor Sleep is published by Hodder and Stoughton and is available now.

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The Darwin Elevator – Jason M Hough

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Titan is really starting to grab my attention. With authors such as John Birmingham, Steven L Kent, Cory Doctorow and Jack Campbell, they’re increasing their market share in the genre and adding Jason M Hough and “The Dire Earth Cycle” to that list, it’s hard to find better military/psychological SF at the moment.

In the year 2283, the last habitable place on Earth is Darwin, Australia after aliens constructed an elevator from Darwin, into space. A global plague has turned all but a small percentage of humans into crazed “Sub-human’s”. Darwin is safe from the plague because the space elevator emits an aura that protects the area around it but the origin coincides with the human interaction with it as they established orbital colonies along the elevator’s cord. Was the plague also left behind by the alien builders?

Skyler Luiken and his fellow immune scavenger crew are struggling. Skyler is finding leadership tough and the crew are borderline mutinous. When he leads a mission into the dangerous wastelands beyond the aura’s edge; he has to learn to lead quickly because the fate of Darwin could depend on it.

At the top of the Space Elevator, a battle for control begins. Neil Platz and his groomed assistant Dr Tania Sharma are trying to find a pattern in the appearances of the builders, but Neil knows more then he’s letting on and this keeps him a few steps ahead of the ones trying to claim control of all he built. When the master manipulator sends Tania along on Skyler’s mission, he becomes the catalyst of Earth’s next phase.

Jason M Hough’s debut is an ambitious one. It’s a mix of SF, mystery, corporate espionage and zombies. You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking Hough might have taken on too much for this book but as you race through the story, in a shower of bullets and debris, you realise that not only has Hough executed all of the above, he has taken on a whole lot more and pushed The Darwin Elevator to the front of modern SF. It’s incredibly fun but without being trashy, and I guarantee you won’t see the ending coming. It is great that such a relatively straightforward adventure story provokes so many questions. Hopefully this will show writers, new and old, that there can be more to Military SF.   There’s huge scope for the next two in the series so let hope Jason builds on this excellent start

4.5/5

Dire Earth Cycle are all published this year by Titan Books

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