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Dead Man’s Blues by Ray Celestin. Book Review

August 11, 2016


Dead Man's Blues

It is late 1928 and crime is everywhere. Three particular events, city leaders poisoned in a hotel, a mutilated, white gangster and a missing heiress, all occur within a short period of time from one another. Following the threads of these crimes is Dante Sanfelippo, a fixer, Jacob Russo, a crime scene photographer, and two Pinkerton detectives, Michael Talbot and Ida Davis. As the three investigations begin to cross a complex conspiracy begins to emerge.

From the moment a young Louis Armstrong boards a train for Chicago you know you have embarked on a journey you’re not going to be in hurry to get off. The characters were so seamlessly woven into real event and brilliantly imagined that I had to take the occasional break from the book and make some interesting excursions onto the Internet to work out where the truth ended and Celestin’s imagination took over.

Dead Man’s Blues is indeed as rich and textured as the music in which this world is embedded, so jazz is never far away from the action. Music runs through the novel like a vein of precious metal and is treated as such in wonderfully lyrical prose. It is in these sections where you are most aware of Celestin’s superb technical skill as a creator of stories, because music is described in a way that lifts it off the page and makes you want to go and listen to the jazz and blues of that era. I am not a jazz or blues fan, but using the combination of Celestin’s selected soundtrack and his words, I now get why they hold such a fascination for devotees and why the use of this style of music really brings the book to life.

If you see these asides simply as an author’s indulgence, then you’re missing the point. They work hard alongside the clear exposition of 1920s Chicago, which is laced with razor sharp prose as well as a continually changing narrative pace that makes you feel as if you are immersed in the 1920’s gangster world of Chicago where Al Capone is as large as he was in life.

If you enjoy a good crime novel with a cracking plot and standout characters, Dead Man’s Blues is a thing of beauty and a must-buy.

Dead Man’s Blues was courtesy of Pan Macmillan via NetGalley

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