Sunday, January 25, 2015

Book Review: Ready to Hang: Seven Famous New Orleans Murders, by Robert Tallant

There are as many ways to learn a city as there are people interested in learning it. Surely there's no substitute for learning a place than being there. But if circumstances conspire to prevent being there, the next best thing is reading about it, and a great way to learn about a grand old city is to steep yourself in a fascinating collection exploring some of the most (in)famous murders ever to darken its stormy history. Robert Tallant's "Ready to Hang" is just such a collection. Each of the seven well-written stories in this book reveals no less about how New Orleans has evolved from past to present than it does about the victims and victimizers it chronicles. Perhaps the most widely known of the sinister killers in Tallant's book is the person (or persons?) known as the Axman, whose enduring macabre allure lead to his recent resurrection in a pivotal role on the hit television series "American Horror Story: Coven." Notwithstanding the Axman's considerable legend in the annals of unsolved serial murder, not even his gruesome story outshines the other half-dozen true tales in this book. Did you know the Mafia first sharpened its American hooks in New Orleans? You will, and you'll learn why the practice of "decorating the lamp posts" did much to drive the Mafia out of New Orleans into friendlier digs in New York. Tallant's skill with words and phrases, combined with his meticulous research and attention to detail, makes "Ready to Hang" an absorbing and worthwhile read that is nothing less than a bloodstained love letter to the city where he lived his entire life.

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