This series (this is no.2) is set in Chicago of the Prohibition Era, and features not only the famous mobsters of the day (Al Capone in particular) but several of the great jazz musicians, most notably Louis Armstrong.
The main protagonists are two detectives working for Pinkerton's, Ida Davis and Michael Talbot, who are not at all averse to conducting their own private investigations. They are consulted by a wealthy society woman, Mrs. Van Haren, about the disappearance of her daughter, who has recently become engaged to the son of another millionaire who is, however, more nouveau riche than the aristocratic Van Harens. Mrs.Van Haren admits that on the day her daughter Gwendolyn vanished, her fiancé also vanished.
Ida and Michael soon discover that at about the same time on the same day, a particularly grisly murder took place in an alleyway near the Rock Island and New York Central railway lines. The victim, who was dressed like a gangster – i.e. in a pin-striped double-breasted suit with a carnation in its button-hole – had multiple stab wounds, had his eyes gouged out, and had then been finished off by strangling.
Ida and Michael are ordered by Pinkerton's to drop the Van Haren case, but are determined to continue the investigation on the quiet.
The very complicated plot involves the feud between Al Capone and Bugs Moran's gangs and a number of shady characters play important parts – mainly on the side of the angels.
Louis Armstrong is a close friend of Ida (she is of mixed race and also originates from New Orleans.) I have mixed feelings about the featuring of a great musician in a crime novel – although he was undoubtedly there at the time and knew everybody who was anybody, good and bad.
Ray Celestin writes extremely well throughout this ultra- violent novel. I would definitely not recommend it for the faint-hearted.
Editor’s Note Click Here for Adam Colclough’s review of Dead man’s Blues