A Slinking Agent of the Devil (at 3am) by Hildred Rex

slinking-cover-uncompThis short story is one third of an anthology called The Chicken (or 3 Weird Tales). In A Slinking Agent, the author brings us to New Orleans at a very unique time in history. It’s 1919 and the decadent city is on the verge of Prohibition. The rise of the religious right is changing the good time destination. It comes with a price though. This is the time of the Axman.

The Axman has been most recently popularized and brought to attention by the third series of American Horror Story, which featured him in the plot. The premise of the Axman is that anyone who is not playing jazz on a specific night is at risk of the Axman calling. The Axman doesn’t discriminate in who he kills, be it man, woman, or child, if the music is not playing.

The author brings us a rich and lively New Orleans, and is clearly familiar with the location and history. The city of music is recreated along with the social issues of the time. There is racism and distinct ethnic neighborhoods. The culture is tangible. We meet Dr. Stillman Ball, returned from service in France during World War I, and his mixed race wife, Marie. We spend an evening in their company. We see the racial divide from both sides, as they are looked at differently when out of what society would see as their natural place. Stillman is fascinated with the Axman and who he may be.

The book is rich in atmosphere and sense of time and place. Hildred Rex gives us a concise look into the world of the Axman, and this is recommended reading.

8/10

Book Cover Blurb:

March 14th, 1919: The editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune receives a terrifying letter from the so-called “Axman.” The letter states that the Axman will pass over the Crescent City on St. Joseph’s Night, and that he will grant clemency to anyone listening to jazz music. Those who refuse to “jazz it up” do so at the risk of his axe.

The letter could not have arrived at a more volatile time for New Orleans: The “vice district” of Storyville was on the eve of puritanical reform, prohibition was looming, the Spanish Flu was raging, veterans of the Great War were returning home traumatized, racial strife was at an all-time high, giving rise to the birth of the Mafia. All of this would set the stage for the Axman’s reign of terror.

By Spring of 1919, the Axman had already claimed five lives. There were reported sightings of him on a nightly basis; backdoors were found chiseled and scored, axes were reported missing or discovered lying in unfamiliar yards. The police were confounded as to both his motive and identity. As a result families armed themselves and took shifts watching over each other as they slept.

“A Slinking Agent of the Devil (at 3 AM)” follows the story of an interracial couple as they traverse the orgy of jazz and the rampant hysteria of what came to be the night of the Axman.

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