#DeadMansBlues by Ray Celestin Mini Review


Dead Man's Blues is the second out of an eventual four Ray Celestin Novels that will make up the City Blues Quartet. Occurring a few years after the events of the Axeman's Jazz, this story is set against the backdrop of prohibition Chicago, ripe with gangsters, booze runners and illicit underground bars. Al Capone calls the shots and Louis Armstrong provides the soundtrack and the two underpin the three stranded plot superbly whilst the whole culture of the time feels consistently prominent throughout the entire story. I often found myself spotifying a radio channel based on Louis Armstrong’s West End Blues, laying back in the unusual West Midlands sunshine and absorbing multiple chapters at a time. All I needed was a revolver and a trilby to really become one with the reality. 

The story focusses around three at first unrelated strands: a gruesome murder investigated by Jacob, a crime scene photographer who couldn’t make it as a cop because of a leg disability; a missing socialite’s daughter investigated by Michael and Ida of the Pinkerton detective agency, and an assassination attempt on Al Capone’s life in the form of tainted booze looked into by Dante, an old booze runner with a tragic past and a heroin addiction who owes Capon a favour…

The book does an excellent job of recreating the world of the time; the undercurrents of racism, the political corruption and the evolving jazz scene with a basis around real life events (though amended for literary satisfaction as admitted by the author in the afterward). Our three sets of investigators are all interesting characters, with detailed back stories and absorbing personalities. I especially enjoyed reading about Dante’s battles with his past and his struggles with addiction. 

The scenes are gruesome enough and some of the action gets very violent, without being needlessly so, and the inclusion of famous cameos like Armstrong and Capone are welcome and only serve to add to the realism. Capone particularly is expertly written, feeling as menacing and as brutal as his filmic portrayals. 

The way the book progresses from story to story with an intertwining you kind of feel is coming but don’t necessarily expect make the story a real page turner, with good levels of pacing. I thoroughly suggest a large glass of whiskey on a hot day, some good headphones and a jazz soundtrack and you’ll finish this in no time. Highly recommended. 

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