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The Axeman's Jazz    by Julie Smith order for
Axeman's Jazz
by Julie Smith
Order:  USA  Can
Ivy, 1992 (1991)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by G. Hall

The Axeman's Jazz is the kind of book that leaves you torn between running out and devouring all the other mysteries in the series, or spacing them out as periodic special treats. Julie Smith garnered great attention, including an Edgar for Best First Mystery, with her initial entry in this series, the 1990 publication of New Orleans Mourning featuring police detective Skip Langdon ... in New Orleans, of course. The Axeman's Jazz is the second of the series and even better than the first.

New Orleans is always a particularly attractive, somewhat exotic location for a novel. James Lee Burke has used it most effectively. New Orleans, seen through Smith's eyes, is less seedy and depraved than the city depicted by Burke, although they have in common a steamy tropical atmosphere and an abundant caste of eccentric and colorful characters.

Smith excels at bringing her characters to life and the reader will long remember both the major and minor players in the books. The protagonist, Skip Langdon, is a complex woman, plagued by doubts about herself, her profession, her love life and especially her troubled relationship with her family. Although this may sound like familiar territory for the modern female sleuth, Smith does a better job than most writers, and you will want to keep reading about this interesting woman for a long time.

The Axeman's Jazz takes its name from a serial killer who leaves a signature A at the crime scenes. He has written the police a letter stating he is the 1920's Axeman murderer returned to wreak more havoc. Serial murders in fiction are now so common as to be a cliché, but when this book was written in 1991 they were relatively new, and Smith has done a wonderful job.

When Skip and the other detectives start investigating the victims they discover their only link is attendance at various 12-step program groups such as Al-Anon. So Skip starts attending Al-Anon groups and begins to learn more about herself as well as the possible murderers. The topics at the Al-Anon meetings are fascinating and show great insights into the psyches of people whose lives are affected by addiction or troubled childhoods.

However, the author does not let this intriguing and dramatic material sidetrack her from spinning a well-plotted mystery. No one who reads the ending will ever forget the pain of the serial killer as the reasons for the murders are revealed. There are now approximately 10 Skip Langdon mysteries available, so mystery fans can anticipate many more happy reads.

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