King Zeno
New Orleans, 1918. The birth of jazz, the Spanish flu, an ax murderer on the loose. The lives of a traumatized cop, a conflicted Mafia matriarch, and a brilliant trumpeter converge--and the Crescent City gets the rich, dark, sweeping novel it so deserves.From one of the most inventive writers of his generation, King Zeno is a historical crime novel and a searching inquiry into man's dreams of immortality.New Orleans, a century ago: a city determined to reshape its destiny and, with it, the nation's. Downtown, a new American music is born. In Storyville, prostitution is outlawed and the police retake the streets with maximum violence. In the Ninth Ward, laborers break ground on a gigantic canal that will split the city, a work of staggering human ingenuity intended to restore New Orleans's faded mercantile glory. The war is ending and a prosperous new age dawns. But everything is thrown into chaos by a series of murders committed by an ax-wielding maniac with a peculiar taste in music.The ax murders scramble the fates of three people from different corners of town. Detective William Bastrop is an army veteran haunted by an act of wartime cowardice, recklessly bent on redemption. Isadore Zeno is a jazz cornetist with a dangerous side hustle. Beatrice Vizzini is the widow of a crime boss who yearns to take the family business straight. Each nurtures private dreams of worldly glory and eternal life, their ambitions carrying them into dark territories of obsession, paranoia, and madness.In New Orleans, a city built on swamp, nothing stays buried long.

King Zeno Details

TitleKing Zeno
Author
ReleaseJan 9th, 2018
PublisherMCD
ISBN-139780374181314
Rating
GenreFiction, Historical, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Literature, 21st Century, The United States Of America, Crime

King Zeno Review

  • Meike
    January 1, 1970
    New Orleans in 1918/1919: Jazz is on the rise, construction for the great industrial canal begins, and the city is terrorized by an ax murderer – all of these things really happened, and Nathaniel Rich mixes fact with fiction when he interweaves three narrative threads circling around those events. Isadore “King” Zeno is a struggling jazz musician who tries to break through as a cornet player while finding ways to provide for his family. While King Zeno is a fictional character, Rich mixes in a New Orleans in 1918/1919: Jazz is on the rise, construction for the great industrial canal begins, and the city is terrorized by an ax murderer – all of these things really happened, and Nathaniel Rich mixes fact with fiction when he interweaves three narrative threads circling around those events. Isadore “King” Zeno is a struggling jazz musician who tries to break through as a cornet player while finding ways to provide for his family. While King Zeno is a fictional character, Rich mixes in a lot of historic references: In 1918/1919, there was indeed a particularly inventive cornet (and trumpet) player making a name for himself in New Orleans – Louis Armstrong. He played with other gifted jazz musicians like Kid Ory (the name of Zeno’s wife is Orly, and Kid Ory is also mentioned) and his idol King Oliver (who is also one of Zeno’s inspirations). Back then, Armstrong was married to his first wife Daisy Parker (Daisy is the name of Zeno’s mother-in-law). It is also correct that New Orleans jazz musicians at first mainly played in Storyville, the red light district, before more respected establishments became interested in booking them as their popularity rose. The building of the canal is also a fascinating aspect of the story: This deep-water shipping canal connects the Mississippi to Lake Pontchartrain, and it first broke during Hurricane Betsy in 1965, and then again during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, thus flooding huge parts of the city. Rich tells the story of how the canal was built, inventing a female head of the building company who is involved in crime and corruption. He talks about the first predictions of what might happen if the canal breaks, and he finds powerful images for the plight of the black workers who dug at the construction site. Most surprisingly, the “Axeman of New Orleans” was an actual serial killer who terrorized the city at the time, but while Rich fictionally resolves the case, the real axeman was never caught. I wanted to criticize Rich for connecting the threads of the story in the most implausible way, until I found out that the real axeman (or someone claiming to be the axeman) did in fact write the letter Rich tells us about, and unbelievably, it was published in a newspaper and did really say: “I am very fond of jazz music, and I swear by all the devils in the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose home a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have just mentioned. If everyone has a jazz band going, well, then, so much the better for you people. One thing is certain and that is that some of your people who do not jazz it out on that specific Tuesday night (if there be any) will get the axe.”Until now, all of this sounds stellar, so as an alert reader, you might ask yourselves why I gave this book only three stars. While Rich manages to find some strong and haunting images, other parts are shaky and feel contrived. It is not elegant to let a person who is obviously dying declare “I am dying”, but it gets worse when this person declares multiple times that he is dying until he finally dies (and judging from what happened, he should have been dead long before that). Some characters, like the son of the construction company owner, remain one-dimensional and crude. Another example of a scene gone wrong would be when one of the policemen picks up his colleague, and then this happens:“See I caught you eating pie.” He stuck a fat finger into the cream on Bill’s cheek and put it in his mouth. “I was shaving.”He eats his colleague’s shaving cream? Or he would eat cream pie from his colleague’s face? No, people, he clearly wouldn’t. To add one last example, why is there randomly one singular sentence like this thrown in: “Lost in a daze, on a hazy crazy malaisy Friday.” Such playful choices made sense if Rich tried to transform jazz music into his language throughout the book, but he doesn’t. These flaws are particularly sad because this novel has so much potential and could have been much stronger – In fact I blame the editor, not the author. An editor should have helped to manage the material and make the story and the language more consistent. Still, I can’t really hate on the text, because the story itself is great, the setting is great, and the narrative imagination that ties all threads together – logically, but also with slightly varying themes and poetic images - is also great. This could have been absolutely amazing, but then it fell a little short. Still, I would love to read more by Nathaniel Rich.
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  • Sam
    January 1, 1970
    Set in the New Orleans of the early twentieth century (summer 1918 to be precise), it follows the intertwined tales of three fictional characters, as they navigate the brothels of Storyville, bayous, the reek of the slums, concert halls, city jail, and the Mafia, while coping with the real-life reality of the Spanish Flu and the “Axman of New Orleans” decimating the city population. There is also rising racial tension between the police and the young black men they are harassing.Read this and mo Set in the New Orleans of the early twentieth century (summer 1918 to be precise), it follows the intertwined tales of three fictional characters, as they navigate the brothels of Storyville, bayous, the reek of the slums, concert halls, city jail, and the Mafia, while coping with the real-life reality of the Spanish Flu and the “Axman of New Orleans” decimating the city population. There is also rising racial tension between the police and the young black men they are harassing.Read this and more reviews on my blog It's Good To ReadHistorical Facts:There WAS an Axman of New Orleans, leaving 6 dead and 12 injured during the period May 1918 to October 1919.The Industrial Canal (or the “Inner Harbour Navigation Canal, to give its official name) was built between June 1918 to May 1923.Spanish Flu, which killed as many as 50 million people globally, hit New Orleans for the first time in Oct 1918, killing about four thousand people.Louis Armstrong was born and started out in the Big Easy, in this period.King Zeno is a slow burn initially, but then takes off to a rollicking cracking pace. The suspense level is well maintained, told in the third person, and the author craftily blends his characters with the real-life facts.The three main characters are:the eponymous King Zeno, aka Isadore Zeno, a gifted Creole musician who wants to drive the new jazz movement, and in the process become musically immortal, but as yet has no real (i.e. paying) audience. His pregnant wife and mother-in-law both depend on him, leading him to temporarily try armed robbery to make ends meet. He gives up the cornet when he starts honest work on the Industrial canal. As the Axman murders gain more notoriety in the city, sparking widespread panic, Zeno exploits this to bolster his flagging/dead career.William Bastrop, a recently-returned from France war veteran, is now a detective in the New Orleans Police Department, and suffering from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), which unfortunately was not considered as a condition in those times. Haunted by a war incident in an under-siege dugout, where he, through “cowardice thick as wet cement” saved his own life while his comrades died, he decides to try and redeem himself through solving the Axe Murder case. He does this after one of those dead comrades turns up, seeking revenge, and after his wife leaves him once she learns of the truth behind his service record. Beatrice Vizzini is the widow of the local Mafia boss, who now has the contract to build the Canal. Being the Mafia matriarch, she used legal and illegal means to get it and hold onto it. Of course, she is NOT happy with body bits turning up in her canal, which she sees as her route to respectability. Her son Giorgio, a large cruel and sadistic hulk of a man is heir apparent to Beatrice’s empire, but becomes increasingly erratic as the book progresses, and his behaviour threatens to undermine and destroy everything she is trying to create.The story rests on three pillars, namely the construction of the Industrial Canal between Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain, the effects of World War 1,and the beginnings of the jazz movement. The Canal links all three characters throughout the book, although they don’t actually interact until the final scenes. There is a lot going on in this book, right to the end, high drama, higher body count, and this book rates well alongside its contemporaries (e.g. Ray Celestin’s The Axeman’s Jazz). I expect there will be more of these books, as we reach the 100-year anniversary of the Axman killings.
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  • Annie
    January 1, 1970
    Nathaniel Rich’s King Zeno is the second novel I’ve read recently that takes on the Axeman Murders of New Orleans—which is fitting since it’s been a century since the still-unsolved murders were committed. (Read my review of The Axeman, by Ray Celestin.) This fictional take on the murders rotates between a police officer with PTSD, a widow who heads a major construction project in the city, and a jazz cornet player. King Zeno is stuffed with the sights and sounds of New Orleans in the winter of Nathaniel Rich’s King Zeno is the second novel I’ve read recently that takes on the Axeman Murders of New Orleans—which is fitting since it’s been a century since the still-unsolved murders were committed. (Read my review of The Axeman, by Ray Celestin.) This fictional take on the murders rotates between a police officer with PTSD, a widow who heads a major construction project in the city, and a jazz cornet player. King Zeno is stuffed with the sights and sounds of New Orleans in the winter of 1917-1918. At times, the Axeman Murders get a lost as the characters witness the evolution of hot jazz, weather the Spanish Flu epidemic, and the construction of the city’s industrial canal...Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration.
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  • Cindy
    January 1, 1970
    I’m a fan of New Orleans. There’s good and there’s bad but there’s always the magical, especially about the past. Like the primordial swamp, there are layers upon layers, forests upon forests and people, their lives and loves, upon each other. The author captures the mood of a city in the swamp wanting to rise above those layers, the past, like the mud, tugging them back. Their struggle is the story. Rich is able to paint a picture of this city and the struggles while maintaining the tension of I’m a fan of New Orleans. There’s good and there’s bad but there’s always the magical, especially about the past. Like the primordial swamp, there are layers upon layers, forests upon forests and people, their lives and loves, upon each other. The author captures the mood of a city in the swamp wanting to rise above those layers, the past, like the mud, tugging them back. Their struggle is the story. Rich is able to paint a picture of this city and the struggles while maintaining the tension of an excellent suspense novel. This period in time in Louisiana - 1910s/WWI era- has provided some excellent fodder for fine writing. Rich’s writing is reminiscent of Tim Gautreaux’s The Clearing and The Missing (both HIGHLY recommended). The ability to capture the time and place in the city I Love was magic for me.
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  • Kim McGee
    January 1, 1970
    New Orleans 1918A city of new beginnings now that the war is over and the birth of Jazz has begun to catch on or is it a city sliding back into the swamp facing corruption, racial tension and murder? Jazz is the newest thing to catch fire but few musicians can make a living of it. Instead they must act as laborers building the new canal or fall into illegal means that make more money. The Spanish Flu is sweeping through the city taking it's toll on young and old, black and white, rich or poor. C New Orleans 1918A city of new beginnings now that the war is over and the birth of Jazz has begun to catch on or is it a city sliding back into the swamp facing corruption, racial tension and murder? Jazz is the newest thing to catch fire but few musicians can make a living of it. Instead they must act as laborers building the new canal or fall into illegal means that make more money. The Spanish Flu is sweeping through the city taking it's toll on young and old, black and white, rich or poor. Corruption is rampant and there is a serial killer on the loose- the Axeman who has everyone on edge and the police hassling all the young black men in the city. The author blends the characters and their story almost like the jazz music itself - short jerky bursts of violence blended with the low mournful sound of a solo trumpet. My thanks to the publisher for the advance copy.
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  • Trina
    January 1, 1970
    Good mystery novel set in New Orleans in 1919. Characters are interesting but the plots get a bit thick. Mostly I was interested in the settings because I’m fascinated by Nola history, and that part of the book was well done. Mysteries are always hard for me to read because I just read continuously until I finish. I prefer novels I can savor a bit more.
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  • nikkia neil
    January 1, 1970
    Thanks Farrar, Straus and Giroux and netgalley for this ARC.King Zeno is like no other book I've read about New Orleans. Its dirty, gritty, and real. This is not glamorous look at jazz, war, or the cops.
  • Michael
    January 1, 1970
    My review for this book was published on December 4, 2017, by Library Journal:In this deft historical thriller, Rich (Odds Against Tomorrow) seamlessly blends fact with fiction as three characters attempt to secure their legacies in the shadow of a gruesome murder, with post–World War I New Orleans as the backdrop. During the summer of 1918, with the Spanish flu spreading rapidly and a weird new music catching on, an ax-wielding serial killer is on the loose. Isadore Zeno, surely the greatest ja My review for this book was published on December 4, 2017, by Library Journal:In this deft historical thriller, Rich (Odds Against Tomorrow) seamlessly blends fact with fiction as three characters attempt to secure their legacies in the shadow of a gruesome murder, with post–World War I New Orleans as the backdrop. During the summer of 1918, with the Spanish flu spreading rapidly and a weird new music catching on, an ax-wielding serial killer is on the loose. Isadore Zeno, surely the greatest jazz cornetist Crescent City has never heard, finds opportunity in the city’s terror to make his name. Det. William Bastrop, whose marriage has collapsed, sees cracking the case as a path to redemption. Beatrice Vizzini is the head of a crime family whose claim to legitimacy is staked on the construction of a giant canal that will return New Orleans to industrial glory, but her hulking, dim-witted son may derail it. Though these story lines do not converge until the climactic final chapter, they are absorbing enough on their own to keep readers engaged. The period details—most taken directly from the historical record—are expertly deployed. VERDICT A solid recommendation for admirers of James Lee Burke’s New Orleans-based “Dave Robicheaux” series and Thomas Mullen’s similarly brainy ­thrillers (Darktown; Lightning Men).Copyright ©2017 Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. Reprinted with permission.
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