King Zeno by Nathaniel Rich
“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. Everywhere else is just Cleveland”. ~ Tennessee Williams.
New Orleans. There is absolutely no place like it -- the home of Mardi Gras, the birthplace of jazz, a place of decadence and artistic creativity that draws millions of people to its streets year after year. The city is vibrant and gritty, steeped in fascinating history and filled with some of the most intriguing people you will ever meet. You can find yourself back in time on Royal Street as you browse the incredible antique shops, catch a Broadway show in the breathtaking Saenger Theatre or wander down Pirate’s Alley and lose yourself among the shelves of Faulkner House Books. It is one of my absolute favorite places to visit.
But New Orleans has a dark side… a sordid past… where mafia once controlled the city, police corruption was rampant and an ax murderer walked the streets wreaking havoc on the locals. King Zeno is a fictional account of this true story … and I thought it was brilliantly executed. By day, Isadore Zeno works in brutal conditions on the Industrial Canal dig that will eventually divide the city. By night, he does what he loves, bringing down the house with a new type of sound that will revolutionize the musical landscape. I loved the descriptions of the hole in the wall haunts where people packed in to hear “the devil’s music”. I could vividly picture Isadore Zeno in my mind, sweat glistening on his brow, while he played his cornet with everything he had, creating a religious experience for all who heard him. When Zeno is not playing his beloved jazz he engages in dangerous hold ups to try and make ends meet to support his wife and unborn child. His path will unknowingly cross with a powerful mafia henchman and Zeno will find himself struggling to stay one step ahead of the police and the mob while the whole town tries to stay out of the path of the Ax Man. King Zeno offers a dark and tense look at race, politics and the lives of three very different men trying to shape their own destinies. 4 stars.
**Trigger Point: please be aware that there are racial slurs used throughout the book. Many thanks to Farrar, Strauss and Giroux for an arc of this stunning novel.