Dead Man's Blues
Chicago, 1928. In the stifling summer heat, three disturbing events take place: A clique of city leaders is poisoned in a fancy hotel; a white gangster is found mutilated in an alleyway in the Blackbelt; and a famous heiress vanishes without a trace. Pinkerton detectives Michael Talbot and Ida Davis are hired to find the missing heiress by the girl’s troubled mother. But it soon proves harder than expected to find a face that is known across the city, and Ida must elicit the help of her friend, Louis Armstrong. While the police take little interest in the Blackbelt murder, Jacob Russo—crime scene photographer—can’t get the dead man’s image out of his head, leading him to embark on his own investigation. And Dante Sanfelippo—rum-runner and fixer—is back in Chicago on the orders of Al Capone, who suspects there’s a traitor in the ranks and wants Dante to investigate. But Dante is struggling with his own problems, as he is forced to return to the city he thought he’d never see again . . .
Set largely in 1928 Chicago in the months leading up to the landmark championship heavyweight boxing match between Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey (moved forward from 1927 for dramatic purposes), British author Celestin's gripping sequel to 2015's The Axeman chronicles the evolution of jazz and organized crime in early-20th-century America. The narrative can be unwieldy at times with its intricately intertwined story lines (two Pinkerton detectives seek a missing heiress, a crime scene photographer investigates a gruesome murder, and Al Capone brings a heroin-addicted fixer back to Chicago to find the rat in his organization), but the rich description and meticulous attention to historical detail more than compensate. Louis Armstrong's journey to Chicago and his role in revolutionizing jazz is a highlight. Celestin's portrayal of the Prohibition-era city from the widespread political corruption to the rampant racism gives the story a sobering foundation. Readers will look forward to the third installment (of a projected four), which, Celestin promises in an afterword, will be set in 1940s New York.