Wake the Devil, by Ryan Adam

Six stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Ryan Adam for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having never read anything by Ryan Adam beforehand, I was drawn in solely by the blurb on the dust jacket. That short summary promised a mix of mystery and some historical fiction, peppered with a touch of reality to leave the reader to parse through what they might like to believe. Truman Newirth arrives in New Orleans to take possession of a piece of property left to him by his family. Newirth has come from San Francisco and certainly senses the great difference. her in the Big Easy. When he discovers that the building of which he is about to take possession has ties to the Axeman Murders of the early 20th century, he is both disgusted and intrigued, hoping to learn more. The story then travels back to 1917, to a time in New Orleans when the city is being haunted by a killer, the Axeman. This character has targeted Italians, beginning by sneaking into their house though the kitchen door. After making their way to the bedroom, the Axeman hacked them to bits, leaving a bloody mess in his wake. Both the police and the local newspaper are baffled, unsure how to make sense of it all. Could it be a crude new means of Mafioso vengeance? Reporter Johnathan Newirth—great-grandfather to Truman—works diligently on the greatest story of his young career, unable to crack the code. When the Axeman publishes an ultimatum, everyone waits to see who might be next to die by the axe, and whether the authorities have the gumption to make an arrest that will save the city from future worry. The tale spans both time periods and it is only revelations at the end that ensure the reader better understands the Axeman and the crimes that shook New Orleans a century ago. Interesting in its premise, though I found myself drowning in the narrative. Hopefully others will be able to extract the spark of intrigue that I could not locate throughout my reading experience.

While the book appeared to have all the ingredients for success, I could not follow the direction that Ryan Adam sought to take the reader in this publication. Working in two time periods, one would have thought the mystery would have added depth and interest, but the opening section, set in 2004, seemed like an extended prologue that would not end. I kept looking to see why the reader needed to learn so much about Truman and this house he had enter his possession, learning only that Adam seemed to want to build up some curiosity that is sated only when the story flashes back in time. The bulk of the story, set in 1917-19, has some potential, as the city is reeling from these blood-filled murders. Why are Italians being targeted and who might be next? What motive might someone have to do this horrible killings and how are they able to stay off the radar of an accomplished police force and a witty journalist. I cannot pinpoint where things went wrong for me, but I can garner the sense that Adam’s writing did not stand off the page for me. It seemed to flow with ease and the story did move forward, but I could not find myself drawn to want to read thoroughly and intensely to discover how things would resolve themselves. It is a pity, for I was looking forward to a gripping story and gritty murder investigation—both from the angles of the police and a journalist—but was left feeling as though someone was sawing my neck with an old butter knife. Perhaps the brilliance is embedded in there for others, but I surely missed it in my reading experience. A mix of chapter lengths and the two time periods leave the reader wanting to learn a little more, as well as using what looks to be time-appropriate language and headline-grabbing sentences. Adam may simply have missed the mark for me, but I encourage others to see if this book is as riveting as the blurb makes it seem to be.

Kudos, Mr. Adam, for a good effort. I think you may have just lost me in this one. I’d be willing to try another of your books, or return to this one, down toe road.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons