In post-Katrina New Orleans, Detective Dave Robicheaux is up to his knees in troubles of all kinds. Once again, James Lee Burke enmeshes his protagonist in a setting so palpably real that we almost feel like assistants in his searches.
The Tin Roof Blowdown may be Burke's most ambitious novel because he places this crime story against the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, with emphasis not just on the forces of nature but also on the even more shocking damage caused by human greed and violence, by racial hate and by political cynicism and bureaucratic indifference…The crime story is as solid and well-written as we have come to expect from the prolific Burke, but it's ground we've covered before. What's dramatically new in the novel is the portrait of the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, both in New Orleans and in nearby New Iberia, where Robicheaux lives and works as a detective (and where Burke lives, too). Burke, one of the most lyrical of crime writers, invests the onrushing hurricane with a terrible beauty: "To the south, a long black hump begins to gather itself on the earth's rim, swelling out of the water like an enormous whale, extending itself all across the horizon. You cannot believe what you are watching." A little later, he reports that "the entire city, within one night, has been reduced to the technological level of the Middle Ages." Some of his descriptions of the sights and smells of the flooded city are almost unreadable.
The Washington Post
If I'd been asked to bet on who'd write the definitive crime novel about Hurricane Katrina and the devastation of New Orleans, my money would have been on James Lee Burke. And that's just what he delivers in The Tin Roof Blowdown, a hard-boiled cops-and-robbers yarn that puts a human face on anonymous acts of good and evil in the chaos and horror of this natural disaster and its manmade aftermath.
The New York Times Book Review
Although The Tin Roof Blowdown describes the storm and its horrors, Mr. Burke does not dwell on their shock value. He leaves that to others and moves on to tell his own kind of story. Like the novelists who have most effectively captured the impact on New York of the World Trade Center collapse, he concentrates more intensely on his characters’ inner lives than on the havoc around them. In Mr. Burke's universe of knights and grifters the post-Hurricane Katrina days are full of opportunity. The chaos tears off the veneers of civilized character to show what these people are really made of.
The New York Times
The pain, dismay and anger brought on by the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina explodes from the pages of this new Dave Robicheaux novel. For nearly a quarter of a century, Burke has used this series, despite their dark subject matter, to show his obvious love of the land, the people and the cultures of the South and specifically New Orleans. There is a mystery for Robicheaux to solve, but it's the destruction of Burke's beloved New Orleans that resonates like thunder throughout the book. Will Patton, who has come to embody the heart and soul of Burke's weary, Southern knight, matches the author's prose in all its intensity and pain. Adept as he is at portraying the eccentric, the evil and the endearing characters found in Burke's books, it is the actor's reading of Burke's descriptive passages, whether it be a storm forming off the Louisiana coast or the shock of blood escaping from a gunshot wound, that creates a fully realized world for the listener. Patton's insightful interpretation of Burke's darkly expressive imagery makes for a rich literary experience rarely achieved in crime fiction today. Simultaneous release with the S&S hardcover (Reviews, May 21). (July)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
In his many years of service with the New Orleans police department and the New Iberia sheriff's department, Dave Robicheaux has faced evil and danger in its many forms. But his life is about to change as New Orleans-"the city that care forgot"-is about to fall victim to a catastrophe that will dwarf all the ills that have previously beset it. As Hurricane Katrina sweeps into the city, residents who were not able to flee can't begin to know that even worse destruction will occur when the levees fail. With the city in chaos, law enforcement officers from New Iberia are called in to help restore a semblance of order. As Dave gets pulled into the turmoil, his wife and daughter are about to face their darkest hour. This is one of Burke's best and will keep listeners enthralled. Will Patton's performance makes the author's prose sing. This book is essential for all libraries, as Burke has captured in eloquent fiction an event that allowed us to see "an American city turned into Baghdad." Highly recommended.
A looting and shooting at the height of Hurricane Katrina's destruction sucks Dave Robicheaux (Pegasus Descending, 2006, etc.) into New Orleans's purgatorial ordeal. After hijacking a boat from a junkie priest who was fighting to rescue a crowd trapped in a church attic by Katrina's rising waters, bail jumper Andre Rochon, together with his teenaged cousin Kevin and armed-robbery specialists Eddy and Bertrand Melancon, runs into both good fortune and bad. Breaking into florist/gangster Sidney Kovick's house, the looters find thousands in cash and a trove of blood diamonds. But when they try boosting some gas from insurance agent Otis Baylor, whose traumatized daughter Thelma recognizes them as the men who raped her after her senior prom, a single gunshot leaves one of them dead and another a helpless paraplegic, left to the mercy of the city's monumentally overburdened hospital system. Seconded from Iberia Parish to help the NOPD cope with the epidemic lawlessness, Robicheaux finds himself tangling with his eye-for-an-eye buddy Clete Purcel, Kovick's gangland establishment, scary private eye Ronald Bledsoe and the usual quota of femmes fatales and lowlifes. Apart from the operatically scaled evocation of the hurricane, a shattering portrait Burke was born to create, the most striking creation here is Bertrand Melancon, a lost soul who can't decide whether he's an avenger or a penitent.
Read an Excerpt
My worst dreams have always contained images of brown water and fields of elephant grass and the downdraft of helicopter blades. The dreams are in color but they contain no sound, not of drowned voices in the river or the explosions under the hooches in the village we burned or the thropping of the Jolly Green and the gunships coming low and flat across the canopy, like insects pasted against a molten sun.
In the dream I lie on a poncho liner, dehydrated with blood expander, my upper thigh and side torn by wounds that could have been put there by wolves. I am convinced I will die unless I receive plasma back at battalion aid. Next to me lies a Negro corporal, wearing only his trousers and boots, his skin coal-black, his torso split open like a gaping red zipper from his armpit down to his groin, the damage to his body so grievous, traumatic, and terrible to see or touch he doesn't understand what has happened to him.
"I got the spins, Loot. How I look?" he says.
"We've got the million-dollar ticket, Doo-doo. We're Freedom Bird bound," I reply.
His face is crisscrossed with sweat, his mouth as glossy and bright as freshly applied lipstick when he tries to smile.
The Jolly Green loads up and lifts off, with Doo-doo and twelve other wounded on board. I stare upward at its strange rectangular shape, its blades whirling against a lavender sky, and secretly I resent the fact that I and others are left behind to wait on the slick and the chance that serious numbers of NVA are coming through the grass. Then I witness the most bizarre and cruel and seemingly unfair event of my entire life.
As the Jolly Green climbs above the river and turns toward the China Sea, a solitary RPG streaks at a forty-five-degree angle from the canopy below and explodes inside the bay. The ship shudders once and cracks in half, its fuel tanks blooming into an enormous orange fireball. The wounded on board are coated with flame as they plummet downward toward the water.
Their lives are taken incrementally - by flying shrapnel and bullets, by liquid flame on their skin, and by drowning in a river. In effect, they are forced to die three times. A medieval torturer could not have devised a more diabolic fate.
When I wake from the dream, I have to sit for a long time on the side of the bed, my arms clenched across my chest, as though I've caught a chill or the malarial mosquito is once again having its way with my metabolism. I assure myself that the dream is only a dream, that if it were real I would have heard sounds and not simply seen images that are the stuff of history now and are not considered of interest by those who are determined to re-create them.
I also tell myself that the past is a decaying memory and that I do not have to relive and empower it unless I choose to do so. As a recovering drunk, I know I cannot allow myself the luxury of resenting my government for lying to a whole generation of young men and women who believed they were serving a noble cause. Nor can I resent those who treated us as oddities if not pariahs when we returned home.
When I go back to sleep, I once again tell myself I will never again have to witness the wide-scale suffering of innocent civilians, nor the betrayal and abandonment of our countrymen when they need us most.
But that was before Katrina. That was before a storm with greater impact than the bomb blast that struck Hiroshima peeled the face off southern Louisiana. That was before one of the most beautiful cities in the Western Hemisphere was killed three times, and not just by the forces of nature.
Copyright © 2007 by James Lee Burke