Dead Man’s Blues – Ray Celestin

Title: Dead Man’s Blues

Author: Ray Celestin

Year 2016

Publisher: Macmillan

Wow. I don’t know where to begin with this book. Though it was 475 pages long, it took me just over two days to complete. It was such an absorbing read that I felt annoyed every time I had to put it down. (Life eh? Such a nuisance)

Gangsters, corruption and jazz.. lots and lots of jazz. Dead Man’s Blues is set during the late 1920s, when alcohol was prohibited and Al Capone ruled the roost. As a piece of historical fiction, Celestin carefully intertwines Louis Armstrong’s early years with two struggling detectives Ida and Michael on the search for a missing girl. There are several strands to this narrative which are filled up beautifully with descriptions of the city and I was vaguely reminded of the playstation game L A Noire, though set twenty years later and in Los Angeles.

“He stared out at the black mass of water, to the vastness of Canada and the Arctic beyond, to the black mass of the sky above, in which the world was just a suspended mote, and in his oblivion he though how much better it would be if every void was strapped with stars.”

Alongside Michael and Ida’s narrative, we follow photographer and wanna-be detective Jacob Russo as he hunts for clues behind a dead man with his eyes gouged out, and Dante, ex-gangster who has returned to Chicago on a special mission by Al Capone. The first few chapters were a little confusing as I tried to catch up with both the history and the numerous storylines  in this novel, but expertly, Celestin slowly weaves each narrative together and it reveals a clever plot with characters who are both unique and nicely flawed, making it difficult to pick a favourite.

The narrative layout is relatively simple and moves between each character in a linear structure. Though sometimes I felt the choice of perspective had been chosen at random, this did make the plot a little easier to follow, as there was no need to jump between time frames or any of that malarkey.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book; it is unique compared to a lot of crime fiction I see on the shelves and I look forward to reading Celestin’s debut, The Axeman’s Jazz which won the CWA Best Debut Crime Novel of the Year Award. If you’e not into that gory stuff, but want an engrossing mystery created on the legends of some of histories greatest gangsters, then this is for you.


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