Dave Robicheaux returns in an adventure as timely as real life: the fight against crime, and the fight for life in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
In the waning days of summer 2005, a storm with greater impact than the bomb that struck Hiroshima peels the face off southern Louisiana. This is the gruesome reality Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Detective Dave Robicheaux discovers as he is deployed to New Orleans. As The Tin Roof Blowdown begins, Hurricane Katrina has left the commercial district and residential neighborhoods awash with looters and predators of every stripe. The power grid of the city has been destroyed; New Orleans reduced to the level of a medieval society. There is no law, no order, no sanctuary for the infirm, the helpless, and the innocent. Bodies float in the streets and lie impaled on the branches of flooded trees. In the midst of an apocalyptical nightmare, Robicheaux must find two serial rapists, a morphine-addicted priest, and a vigilante who may be more dangerous than the criminals looting the city.
About the Author
James Lee Burke is a New York Times bestselling author, two-time winner of the Edgar Award, and the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts in Fiction. He’s authored thirty-six novels and two short story collections. He lives in Missoula, Montana.
Hometown:New Iberia, Louisiana and Missoula, Montana
Date of Birth:December 5, 1936
Place of Birth:Houston, Texas
Education:B.A., University of Missouri, 1959; M.A., University of Missouri, 1960
Read an Excerpt
The Tin Roof Blowdown
FOR THE REST of the world, the season was still fall, marked by cool nights and the gold-green remnants of summer. For me, down in South Louisiana, in the Garden District of New Orleans, the wetlands that lay far beyond my hospital window had turned to winter, one characterized by stricken woods that were drained of water and strung with a web of gray leaves and dead air vines that had wrapped themselves as tightly as cord around the trees.
Those who have had the following experience will not find my descriptions exaggerated or even metaphorical in nature. A morphine dream has neither walls nor a ceiling nor a floor. The sleep it provides is like a warm bath, free of concerns about mortality and pain and memories from the past. Morpheus also allows us vision through a third eye that we never knew existed. His acolytes can see through time and become participants in grand events they had believed accessible only through history books and films. On one occasion, I saw a hot-air balloon rising from its tether in Audubon Park, a uniformed soldier operating a telegrapher’s key inside the wicker basket, while down below other members of the Confederate Signal Corps shared sandwiches and drank coffee from tin cups, all of them as stately and stiff as figures in a sepia-tinted photograph.
I don’t wish to be too romantic about my experience in the recovery facility there on St. Charles Avenue in uptown New Orleans. While I gazed through my window at the wonderful green streetcar wobbling down the tracks on the neutral ground, the river fog puffing out of the live oak trees, the pink and purple neon on the Katz & Besthoff drugstore as effervescent as tentacles of smoke twirling from marker grenades, I knew with a sinking heart that what I was seeing was an illusion, that in reality the Katz & Besthoff drugstore and the umbrella-covered sno’ball carts along St. Charles and the musical gaiety of the city had slipped into history long ago, and somewhere out on the edge of my vision, the onset of permanent winter waited for me.
Though I’m a believer, that did not lessen the sense of trepidation I experienced in these moments. I felt as if the sun were burning a hole in the sky, causing it to blacken and collapse like a giant sheet of carbon paper suddenly crinkling and folding in on itself, and I had no power to reverse the process. I felt that a great darkness was spreading across the land, not unlike ink spilling across the face of a topographic map.
Many years ago, when I was recovering from wounds I received in a Southeast Asian country, a United States Army psychiatrist told me that my morphine-induced dreams were creating what he called a “world destruction fantasy,” one that had its origins in childhood and the dissolution of one’s natal family. He was a scientist and a learned man, and I did not argue with him. Even at night, when I lay in a berth on a hospital ship, far from free-fire zones and the sound of ammunition belts popping under a burning hooch, I did not argue. Nor did I contend with the knowledge of the psychiatrist when dead members of my platoon spoke to me in the rain and a mermaid with an Asian face beckoned to me from a coral cave strung with pink fans, her hips spangled with yellow coins, her mouth parting, her naked breasts as flushed with color as the inside of a conch shell.
The cult of Morpheus is a strange community indeed, and it requires that one take up residence in a country where the improbable becomes commonplace. No matter what I did, nor how many times I disappeared out my window into the mists along St. Charles Avenue, back into an era of rooftop jazz bands and historical streetcars filled with men in bowler hats and women who carried parasols, the watery gray rim of a blighted planet was always out there—intransigent and corrupt, a place where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal.
IN THE EARLY A.M. on a Friday, I asked the black attendant to open the windows in my room. It was against the rules, but the attendant was an elderly and kind man who had spent five days on a rooftop after the collapse of the levees during Hurricane Katrina, and he wasn’t given to concerns about authority. The windows reached to the ceiling and were hung with ventilated green shutters that were closed during the heat of the day to filter the sun’s glare. The attendant opened both the glass and the shutters and let in the night smell of the roses and camellias and magnolia and rain mist blowing through the trees. The air smelled like Bayou Teche when it’s spring and the fish are spawning among the water hyacinths and the frogs are throbbing in the cattails and the flooded cypress. It smelled like the earth may have smelled during the first days of creation, before any five-toed footprints appeared along the banks of a river.
Or at least I think the black man opened the windows. Even to this day I cannot be sure of what I said and saw and heard that night. Like the drunkard who fears both his memory and his dreams, I had become cynical about my perceptions, less out of fear that they were illusions than a conviction that they were real.
After the black man had left the room, I turned my head on the pillow and looked into the face of a Cajun girl by the name of Tee Jolie Melton.
“Hi, Mr. Dave,” she said. “I read all about the shooting in the papers. You was on television, too. I didn’t know you was here in New Orleans. I’m sorry to see you hurt like this. You was talking French in your sleep.”
“It’s nice to see you, Tee Jolie. How’d you get in?” I said.
“T’rew the front door. You want me to come back another time?”
“Can you get me a glass of water?”
“I got you better than that. I brought you a Dr Pepper and a lime I cut up, ‘cause that’s what you always drank when you came into the club. I brought you somet’ing else, too. It’s an iPod I filled wit’ music. I loaded ‘Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar’ on it, ‘cause I knew how you always liked that song.”
Her eyes were blue-green, her hair long and mahogany-colored with twists of gold in it that were as bright as buttercups. She was part Indian and part Cajun and part black and belonged to that ethnic group we call Creoles, although the term is a misnomer.
“You’re the best,” I said.
“Remember when you he’ped me with my car crash? You was so kind. You took care of everyt’ing, and I didn’t have no trouble at all because of it.”
It wasn’t a car crash. As I recalled, it was at least three car crashes, but I didn’t pursue the point. The most interesting aspect of Tee Jolie’s auto accidents were her written explanations at the scene. To the best of my memory, these were her words:
“I was backing up when this light pole came out of nowhere and smashed into my bumper.
“I was turning left, but somebody was blocking the lane, so, trying to be polite, I switched my turn indicator and cut through the school parking lot, but I didn’t have no way of knowing the chain was up on the drive at that time of day, because it never is.
“When the transmission went into reverse, Mr. Fontenot was putting my groceries in the backseat, and the door handle caught his coat sleeve and drug him across the street into the gas pump that blew up. I tried to give him first aid on the mouth, but he had already swallowed this big wad of gum that the fireman had to pull out with his fingers. I think Mr. Fontenot almost bit off one of the fireman’s fingers and didn’t have the courtesy to say he was sorry.”
Tee Jolie fixed a glass of ice and Dr Pepper with a lime slice and stuck a straw in it and held it up to my mouth. She was wearing a long-sleeve shirt printed with purple and green flowers. Her skirt was pale blue and fluffy and pleated, and her shoes looked tiny on her feet. You could say that Tee Jolie was made for the camera, her natural loveliness of a kind that begged to be worshipped on a stage or hung on a wall. Her face was thin, her eyes elongated, and her hair full of waves, as though it had been recently unbraided, although that was the way it always looked.
“I feel selfish coming here, ‘cause it wasn’t just to give you a Dr Pepper and the iPod,” she said. “I came here to ax you somet’ing, but I ain’t gonna do it now.”
“You can say anything you want, Tee Jolie, because I’m not even sure you’re here. I dream in both the day and the night about people who have been dead many years. In my dreams, they’re alive, right outside the window, Confederate soldiers and the like.”
“They had to come a long way, huh?”
“That’s safe to say,” I replied. “My wife and daughter were here earlier, and I know they were real. I’m not sure about you. No offense meant. That’s just the way it is these days.”
“I know something I ain’t suppose to know, and it makes me scared, Mr. Dave,” she said.
She was sitting in the chair, her ankles close together, her hands folded on her knees. I had always thought of her as a tall girl, particularly when she was onstage at the zydeco club where she sang, an arterial-red electric guitar hanging from her neck. Now she looked smaller than she had a few moments ago. She lifted her face up into mine. There was a mole by the corner of her mouth. I didn’t know what she wanted me to say.
“Did you get involved with some bad guys?” I said.
“I wouldn’t call them that. How come you to ax me that?”
“Because you’re a good person, and sometimes you trust people you shouldn’t. Good women tend to do that. That’s why a lot of us men don’t deserve them.”
“Your father was killed in a oil-well blowout, wasn’t he? Out on the Gulf when you was in Vietnam. That’s right, ain’t it?”
“Yes, he was a derrick man.”
As with many Creoles and Cajuns, there was a peculiarity at work in Tee Jolie’s speech. She was ungrammatical and her vocabulary was limited, but because of the cadence in her language and her regional accent, she was always pleasant to listen to, a voice from a gentler and more reserved time, even when what she spoke of was not pleasant to think about, in this case the death of my father, Big Aldous.
“I’m wit’ a man. He’s separated but not divorced. A lot of people know his name. Famous people come to the place where we live. I heard them talking about centralizers. You know what they are?”
“They’re used inside the casing on drilling wells.”
“A bunch of men was killed ‘cause maybe not enough of those centralizers was there or somet’ing.”
“I’ve read about that, Tee Jolie. It’s public knowledge. You shouldn’t worry because you know about this.”
“The man I’m wit’ does bidness sometimes with dangerous people.”
“Maybe you should get away from him.”
“We’re gonna be married. I’m gonna have his baby.”
I fixed my gaze on the glass of Dr Pepper and ice that sat on the nightstand.
“You want some more?” she asked.
“Yes, but I can hold it by myself.”
“Except I see the pain in your face when you move,” she said. She lifted the glass and straw to my mouth. “They hurt you real bad, huh, Mr. Dave?”
“They shot me up proper,” I replied.
“They shot your friend Mr. Clete, too?”
“They smacked both of us around. But we left every one of them on the ground. They’re going to be dead for a long time.”
“I’m glad,” she said.
Outside the window, I could hear the rain and wind sweeping through the trees, scattering leaves from the oaks and needles from the slash pines across the roof.
“I always had my music and the piece of land my father left me and my sister and my mama,” she said. “I sang wit’ BonSoir, Catin. I was queen of the Crawfish Festival in Breaux Bridge. I t’ink back on that, and it’s like it was ten years ago instead of two. A lot can change in a short time, cain’t it? My mama died. Now it’s just me and my li’l sister, Blue, and my granddaddy back in St. Martinville.”
“You’re a great musician, and you have a wonderful voice. You’re a beautiful person, Tee Jolie.”
“When you talk like that, it don’t make me feel good, no. It makes me sad.”
“He says I can have an abortion if I want.”
“That’s his offer to you?”
“He ain’t got his divorce yet. He ain’t a bad man. You know him.”
“Don’t tell me his name,” I said.
Because I might want to put a bullet between his eyes, I thought. “It’s not my business,” I said. “Did you really give me this iPod?”
“You just saw me.”
“I can’t trust what I see and hear these days. I truly want to believe you’re real. The iPod is too expensive a gift.”
“Not for me. He gives me plenty of money.”
“My wallet is in the nightstand drawer.”
“I got to go, Mr. Dave.”
“Take the money.”
“No. I hope you like the songs. I put t’ree of mine in there. I put one in there by Taj Mahal ‘cause I know you like him, too.”
“Are you really here?” I asked.
She cupped her hand on my brow. “You’re burning up, you,” she said.
Then she was gone.
NINE DAYS LATER, a big man wearing a seersucker suit and a bow tie and spit-shined shoes and a fresh haircut and carrying a canvas bag on a shoulder strap came into the room and pulled up a chair by the bed and stuck an unlit cigarette in his mouth.
“You’re not going to smoke that in here, are you?” I asked.
He didn’t bother to answer. His blond hair was cut like a little boy’s. His eyes were bright green, more energetic than they should have been, one step below wired. He set his bag on the floor and began pulling magazines and two city library books and a box of pralines and a carton of orange juice and a Times-Picayune from it. When he bent over, his coat swung open, exposing a nylon shoulder holster and the blue-black .38 with white handles that it carried. He removed a pint bottle of vodka from the bag and unscrewed the cap and poured at least three inches into the carton of orange juice.
“Early in the day,” I said.
He tossed his unlit cigarette end over end into the wastebasket and drank out of the carton, staring out the window at the robins fluttering in the oak trees and the Spanish moss stirring in the breeze. “Tell me if you want me to leave, big mon.”
“You know better than that,” I said.
“I saw Alafair and Molly getting in their car. When are you going home?”
“Maybe in a week. I feel a lot stronger. Where have you been?”
“Running down a couple of bail skips. I still have to pay the bills. I’m not sleeping too good. I think the doc left some lead in me. I think it’s moving around.”
His eyes were bright with a manic energy that I didn’t think was related to the alcohol. He kept swallowing and clearing his throat, as though a piece of rust were caught in it. “The speckled trout are running. We need to get out on the salt. The White House is saying the oil has gone away.”
He waited for me to speak. But I didn’t.
“You don’t believe it?” he said.
“The oil company says the same thing. Do you believe them?”
He fiddled with his fingers and looked into space, and I knew he had something on his mind besides the oil-well blowout on the Gulf. “Something happen?” I said.
“I had a run-in two nights ago with Frankie Giacano. Remember him? He used to burn safes with his cousin Stevie Gee. He was knocking back shots with a couple of hookers in this joint on Decatur, and I accidentally stepped on his foot, and he says, ‘Hey, Clete, glad to see you, even though you probably just broke two of my toes. At least it saves me the trouble of coming to your office. You owe me two large, plus the vig for over twenty years. I don’t know what that might come to. Something like the national debt of Pakistan. You got a calculator on you?’”
Clete drank again from the carton, staring at the birds jittering in the trees, his throat working, his cheeks pooling with color as they always did when alcohol went directly into his bloodstream. He set the carton down on the nightstand and widened his eyes. “So I told him, ‘I’m having a quiet beer here, Frankie, and I apologize for stepping on your needle-nose stomps that nobody but greaseballs wears these days, so I’m going to sit down over there in the corner and order a po’boy sandwich and read the paper and drink my beer, and you’re not going to bother me again. Understood?’
“Then, in front of his skanks, he tells me he peeled an old safe owned by his uncle Didi Gee, and he found a marker I signed for two grand, and all these years the vig was accruing and now I owe the principal and the interest to him. So I go, ‘I think a certain kind of social disease has climbed from your nether regions into your brain, Frankie. Secondly, you don’t have permission to call me by my first name. Thirdly, your uncle Didi Gee, who was a three-hundred-pound tub of whale shit, died owing me money, not the other way around.’
“Frankie says, ‘If you’d be a little more respectful, I would have worked something out. But I knew that was what you were gonna say. For that reason, I already sold the marker to Bix Golightly. By the way, take a look at the crossword puzzle in your newspaper. I was working on it this morning and couldn’t think of a thirteen-letter word for a disease of the glands. Then you walked in and it hit me. The word is “elephantiasis.” I’m not pulling your crank. Check it out.’”
“You think he was lying about selling the marker to Golightly?” I asked.
“Bix Golightly is psychotic,” I said.
“They all are.”
“Put away the booze, Clete, at least until afternoon.”
“When you were on the hooch, did you ever stop drinking because somebody told you to?”
It was Indian summer outside, and the sunlight looked like gold smoke in the live oaks. At the base of the tree trunks, the petals of the four-o’clocks were open in the shade, and a cluster of fat-breasted robins were pecking in the grass. It was a fine morning, not one to compromise and surrender to the meretricious world in which Clete Purcel and I had spent most of our adult lives. “Let it go,” I said.
“Let what go?” he asked.
“The sewer that people like Frankie Giacano and Bix Golightly thrive in.”
“Only dead people get to think like that. The rest of us have to deal with it.”
When I didn’t answer, he picked up the iPod and clicked it on. He held one side of the headset close to his ear and listened, then smiled in recognition. “That’s Will Bradley and Freddie Slack. Where’d you get this?”
“From Tee Jolie Melton.”
“I heard she disappeared or went off someplace. She was here?”
“It was about two in the morning, and I turned on the pillow and she was sitting right there, in the same chair you’re sitting in.”
“She works here?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
“After ten p.m. this place is locked up like a convent.”
“Help me into the bathroom, will you?” I said.
He set the iPod back on the nightstand and stared at it, the driving rhythms of “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar” still rising from the foam-rubber pads on the earphones. “Don’t be telling me stuff like this, Streak,” he said. “I’m not up to it. I won’t listen anymore to that kind of talk.”
He lifted the orange juice carton and drank from it, fixing one eye on me like a cyclops who was half in the bag.
CLETE MAINTAINED TWO private investigative offices, one on Main Street in New Iberia, over in the bayou country, and one in New Orleans, on St. Ann in the French Quarter. After Katrina, he bought and restored the building on St. Ann that he had formerly rented. With great pride, he lived on the second floor, above his office, with a fine view from the balcony of St. Louis Cathedral and the oak trees and dark green pike-fenced garden behind it. As a PI, he did scut work for bondsmen and liability lawyers, wives who wanted their unfaithful husbands bankrupted in divorce court, and cuckolds who wanted their wives and their lovers crucified. On the upside of the situation, Clete hired out at nearly pro bono rates to bereaved parents whose missing children had been written off as runaways, or to people whose family members may have been railroaded into prison and even placed on death row.
He was despised by many of his old colleagues at NOPD and the remnants of the Mob. He was also the bane of the insurance companies because of the massive amounts of property damage he had done from Mobile to Beaumont. He had skipped New Orleans on a murder beef after shooting and killing a federal witness, and he had fought on the side of the leftists in El Salvador. He had also been a recipient of the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, and two Purple Hearts. When a private plane loaded with mobsters crashed into the side of a mountain in western Montana, the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation determined that someone had poured sand in the fuel tanks. Clete threw a suitcase in the back of his rusted-out Caddy convertible and blew Polson, Montana, like it was burning down. He dropped a corrupt Teamster official upside down from a hotel balcony into a dry swimming pool. He poured a dispenser of liquid soap down the throat of a button man in the men’s room of the New Orleans airport. He handcuffed a drunk congressman to a fireplug on St. Charles Avenue. He opened up a fire hose on a hit man in the casino at the bottom of Canal Street and blew him into a toilet stall like a human hockey puck. He destroyed a gangster’s house on Lake Pontchartrain with an earth-grader, knocking down the walls, troweling up the floors, and crushing the furniture into kindling, even uprooting the shrubbery and flowers and trees and grading them and the lawn furniture into the swimming pool.
An average day in the life of Clete Purcel was akin to an asteroid bouncing through Levittown.
Child molesters, pimps, dope dealers, and men who abused women got no slack and feared him as they would the wrath of God. But Clete’s role as the merry prankster and classical trickster of folklore had a price tag. A succubus lived in his breast and gave him no respite. He had carried it with him from the Irish Channel in New Orleans to Vietnam and to the brothels of Bangkok and Cherry Alley in Tokyo and back home to New Orleans. In Clete’s mind, he was not worthy of a good woman’s love; nor did he ever measure up in the eyes of his alcoholic father, a milkman who took out his anger and low self-esteem on his confused and suffering firstborn son.
His two visitors had parked their car on Decatur and walked up Pirates Alley, past the small bookshop that once was the apartment of William Faulkner, then had mounted the stairs of Clete’s building, where one of them banged loudly on the door with the flat of his fist.
It was evening, and Clete had just showered after an hour of lifting barbells by the stone well in his courtyard. The sky was mauve-colored and filled with birds, the banana plants in his courtyard rattling in the breeze that blew from Lake Pontchartrain. He had just dressed in new slacks and white socks and Roman sandals and a Hawaiian shirt, his skin still glowing with the warmth of the shower, his hair wet-combed, all the time whistling a tune and looking forward to sitting down at his table over a bowl of crawfish gumbo and loaf of hot buttered French bread. It was the kind of timeless evening in Louisiana when spring and fall and winter and summer come together in a perfect equinox, so exquisite and lovely that the dying of the light seems a violation of a divine ordinance. It was an evening that was wonderful in every way possible. Street musicians were playing in Jackson Square; the air smelled of beignets baking in Café du Monde; the clouds were ribbed like strips of fire above a blue band of light that still clung to the bottom of the sky. Maybe there was even a possibility of turning around in a cafe and unexpectedly seeing a beautiful woman’s smile. It was an evening that would have been good for anything except an unannounced visit by Bix Golightly and a pimple-faced part-time killer and full-time punk named Waylon Grimes.
Clete opened the door. “I’m closed for the day. You got business with me, call the office tomorrow and make an appointment,” he said.
Bix Golightly still had the sloping shoulders and flat chest and vascular forearms and scar tissue around his eyes that had defined him when he boxed at Angola, breaking noses, busting lips and teeth, and knocking his opponents’ mouthpieces over the ropes into the crowd on the green. His face was all bone, the bridge of his nose crooked, his haircut tight, his mouth a mirthless slit. Some people said Bix shot meth. Others said he didn’t have to; Bix had come out of his mother’s womb with a hard-on and had been in overdrive ever since.
Three tiny green teardrops were tattooed at the corner of his right eye. A red star was tattooed on his throat, right under the jawbone. “I’m glad to see you looking so good,” Bix said. “I heard you and your buddy Robicheaux got shot up. I also heard you capped a woman. Or was it Robicheaux who did the broad?”
“It was me. What are you doing here, Bix?”
“Frankie Gee told you about me acquiring your marker?” he said.
“Yeah, I know all about it. With respect, this business about a marker is bogus,” Clete said. “I think Frankie took you over the hurdles. I hope you didn’t get burned too bad.”
“If it’s bogus, why is your name signed on it?” Bix asked.
“Because I used to play bourré with the Figorelli brothers. I lost some money in a pot, but I covered it the following week. How that marker ended up in Didi Gee’s safe, I don’t know.”
“Maybe because you were stoned out of your head.”
“That’s a possibility. But I don’t know and I don’t remember and I don’t care.”
“Purcel, ‘I don’t know’ and ‘I don’t care’ don’t flush.”
“It’d better, because that’s as good as it’s going to get. What’s Waylon doing here?” Clete said.
“He works for me. Why do you ask?”
“He killed a four-year-old child, is why,” Clete replied.
“That was during a robbery. Waylon was the victim, not the guy doing the robbery,” Bix said.
“He backed up over a kid and made the parents testify that a car-jacker did it,” Clete said.
“That’s news to me,” Bix said, looking at his friend. “What’s this stuff about intimidating the parents, Waylon?”
“You got me,” Waylon Grimes said. He was a small-boned man with a concave chest and a wispy red pencil mustache and hair that hung like string over his ears. He wore his shirt outside his slacks, the sleeves buttoned at the wrists the way a 1950s hood might, a chain hooked to a wallet in his back pocket. He lit a cigarette, his hands cupped around his lighter. “Want me to go downstairs?”
“No, stay where you’re at,” Bix said. “Purcel, I’m not greedy. I checked out your finances. You got about fifty grand equity in this place. You can borrow on the equity and give the check to me, since I know you don’t have any cash. But no matter how you cut it, I want thirty large from you. I want it in seven working days, too. Don’t try to stiff me on this, man.”
“I want a retroactive patent on the wheel, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to get one,” Clete replied.
“Can I use your bathroom?” Waylon said.
“It’s broken,” Clete said.
“You got a broad back there?” Waylon said.
Clete stepped forward, forcing the two visitors backward onto the landing, a brass marching band coming to life in his head. “You listen, you little piece of shit,” he said. “If you ever come here again, I’m going to start pulling parts off you. That’s not a metaphor. I’m going to rip your arms and legs off your body and kick them up your ass. You want to crack wise? I hope you do, because I’m going to bust your spokes right now, head to foot.”
Waylon took a deep puff off his cigarette, letting the smoke out slowly, like balls of damp cotton rising from his mouth. He dropped the cigarette on the landing and ground it out flatly under his shoe and glanced at Bix Golightly, his expression contemplative. “I’ll be down at the Vietnamese grocery,” he said.
“No, we’re gonna iron this out,” Bix said. “You don’t talk to my employees like that, Purcel. Besides, we got a lot of commonalities. Did you know we used to ball the same broad, the one with the king-size jugs?”
“This guy is a jerk and a welcher, Bix,” Waylon said. “Why waste your time talking to him? You know how it’s gonna play out.” He walked down the stairs, as indifferent to his employer as he was to Clete’s threat. He paused at the bottom, the wind blowing through the brick foyer, ruffling his clothes. He looked up the stairs at Clete. “About that kid who got himself crunched under the car? He was a Mongoloid and still wearing diapers, even though he was four years old. The only reason his parents kept him around was the state aid they got. He was also playing in the driveway, where he wasn’t supposed to be, primarily because his parents weren’t watching him. If you ask me, he’s better off now.”
Before Clete could respond, Bix Golightly stepped closer to him, blocking Clete’s view of the foyer, his body heat and the astringent smell of his deodorant rising into Clete’s face. “Can you read my ink?” he said.
“What about it?”
“Tell me what it says.”
“The teardrops mean you popped three guys for the Aryan Brotherhood. The red star on your carotid tells ambitious guys to give it their best shot. You’re a walking fuck-you to every swinging dick on the yard.”
“You think you’re a tough guy because you ate a couple of bullets on the bayou? ‘Tough’ is when you got nothing to lose, when you don’t care about nothing, when you don’t even care if you’re going to hell or not. Are you that tough, Purcel?”
“I’m not following you.”
“I’m gonna send an appraiser out to look at your property. We got a small window of opportunity here. Don’t let this thing get out of control.”
“Don’t blow your nose too hard, Bix. I think your brains are starting to melt.”
Bix took a folded piece of lined notebook paper from his shirt pocket and handed it to Clete. “Check out the addresses there and see if I got them right.”
Clete unfolded the piece of notebook paper and stared at the letters and numbers penciled on it, his scalp shrinking. “What if I shove this down your throat?” he said.
“Yeah, you can do that, provided you don’t mind Waylon knowing where your sister and your niece live. Smells like you’re cooking gumbo in there. Have a nice evening. I love this neighborhood. I always wanted to live in it. Don’t get your dork stuck in the lamp socket on this.”
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As usual, Burke's characters are in perfect form; more so because the story unfolds in their home setting of New Orleans. The plot is complicated and leads the reader to an unexpected ending. If you are new to Burke, you will find it a little more graphic depiction of murder, crime and the lives of two very unusual lead characters. The treat in this story is the realistic depiction of the condition of New Orleans and the absolute poverty and misery of the City's inhabitants following the destructive results of Katrina. Great Read!
Every time I read the latest Burke opus, I say "it's the best he's done" but with each new one, like vintage wine, Burke just gets better! Based on TV accounts and other writings I've seen, Burke's account of Katerina and its aftermath is as good as any and better than most! I fully recommend this one.
James Lee Burke fans will love following Dave Robicheaux through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Who better than Burke to walk us through the idiosyncrasies of New Orleans and that city's dealings with the insurance industry?
Good characters and was a good fictional account of Katrina events.
This book provides a realistice feel of New Orleans and Louisiana following Katrina. It is great reading.
I think the book was thrilling.It was really kepping a grasp on me.Although it took me a while to get in to it... it turned out very interesting.
This is a burly, well-written book, and a welcome addition to the Robicheaux series. It persuasively and compassionately depicts the terrifying situation in NOLA following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Difficult issues such as racism are handled with sensitivity. Characters are distinctive and colorfully portrayed with minimal verbiage. Rewarding reading.
I've read all of James Lee Burke's novels including his earlier novels which didn't attract much attention. The constant in everything of his I've read is his commitment to his craft and his reader. Unlike many of the currently sucessful 'series authors', Burke doesn't take shortcuts with characters, settings and especially not with dialogue. Each one of his books, whether a Dave Robechaux story, a Billy Bob Holland story, or a free standing story will stand on it's own without it being necessary to have read earlier installments. James Lee Burke never shortchanges his readers!
Once again, Mr. Burke has set his mystery in the steamy bayous of southern Louisiana. This time the chaos and despair following Hurricane Katrina are the backdrop for theft and murder. The characters are intensely portrayed, and the author manages to evoke sympathy for even the lowest of the low who show the possibility of redemption. And thank heavens the women in Detective Robicheaux's life are strong and assertive, and not a one of them needs to count on a man to rescue her! I kind of suspected what the 'lights' beneath the floodwaters might mean, and had confirmation in the powerful and mystical final passages of the book. A incredibly moving novel of the good, the evil, and the soul-damaged, by an author at the peak of his game.
Hurricane Katrina smashes into New Orleans with the "...explosive force several times greater than that of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945."The tidal surge explodes the levee system and devastates much of New Orleans. Hardest hit of all is the Ninth Ward, an area occupied by many of the poor members of the city.People filled the roads in their automobiles to escape the storm and authorities told those left behind to come to the Convention Center. However, there were no services there. Bodies were left outside, toilets didn't work, there was little food or water and the suffering was extreme.Looting began and one group of looters included four black men who broke into a number of homes that had withstood the storm. One of homes belonged to one of New Orleans most notorious gangsters, Sidney Kovick. The looters took money, drugs, a gun and diamonds that had been hidden behind the walls.Three of these looters were meth dealers and rapists. While they were looting, other men formed vigilante groups to protect their homes. Outside Otis Baylor's home, his daughter recognized two of the looters as the men who had raped her.When one of the looters lights a flame, a shot comes from the dark, killing one of the looters and crippling another.This tremendous novel details the heartakes and demolishing of New Orleans after Katrina and a second hurricane that struck shortly after Katrina. The reader experiences the feeling of the residents about their desolation and frustration as we follow the hunt for the other two thieves by the people who want to regain what had been stolen.Dave Robicheaux becomes involved and shares our sorrow about the circumstances. The action includes his daughter, Alafair and his friend, Clete Purcell.This is a can't put down book whose story will enthrall and haunt the reader.
Will keep you Involved till the conclusion. I thought that this book was a real page turner. The story was also a chronicle of what Katrina did to New Orleans, South Louisiana, and the suffering brought on to the people who experienced that terrible storm. It was especially real in describing how it changed their lives dramatically. This is a well written story and Mr. Burke opinions of the handling of the storm's impact are obvious; both in the narrative and in the prologue. Familiar characters and their personalities, and Dave's family are deeply involved in this fast action novel.Overall, this story will keep you involved right up to its surprising climax.
James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux is one of , if not the best sustained crime fiction series in American literature. This is a very satisfying tribute to New Orleans, post-Katrina. Burke's attitude towards the criminal element in society avoids (for the most part) the Manichean dualisms that some other very good series express. Not to mention, that Burke, in Robicheaux's voice, says some of the most complimentary things I have read in literature about reference librarians.
I've read several Dave Robicheaux books. The strength of this one are the description of the Katrina caused desolation of New Orleans and the surrounding areas, and the chaos that ensued for people living there. The weakest part is the description of the some of the criminals: one, a looter, murderer, and serial rapist turns to selfless acts of redemption; a second, a big time gangster with a feasome reputation turns out to be not a bad guy after all. Just not believable.
Fantastic novel by Burke, clearly one of his best. The backdrop of Horricane Katrina and the devastation of New Orleans added a passion to his prose. Dave Robicheaux continues to be one of the most interesting and enigmatic protagonists in detective fiction.
This is James Lee Burke's eulogy for the city of New Orleans destroyed by hurricane Katrina aided by the sloth,greed and corruption of many people from George W. Bush on down. The human tragedy of Katrina is a significant part of the story. It appears everywhere in the book and provides a scene that recurs throughout the story. Jude LeBlanc, a priest who is afraid to give communion because his hands shake from heroin addiction, is killed on the roof of a church attempting to rescue people trapped inside. Everyone connected with the scene reports glimmering lights in the water that is rising inside the church. LeBlanc's fate and the glimmering lights haunt the story in ways true to Burke's style.. What I really enjoyed in this serving of the Dave Robicheaux saga were the characters. The characters in this book go against the grain of stereotype. The most tormented character in the book is Bernard Melancon a young black man who has participated in two violent gang rapes. A portion of the story comes from his voice telling of his constant inner torture firsthand. His reading of a handwritten apology for his wrongs to the stepmother of one of his victims is the ultimate cry for help rejected by a shallow evil women completely lacking in Bernard's honesty. The women are some of the strongest characters. We meet the adult Alafair who hates being called "Alf". Her ongoing struggle with the villain was for me the emotional center of the book. Molly breaks new boundaries insisting on a fuller identity than Dave Robicheaux's wife. Burke through Robicheaux shows a refreshing ability to accept the fact that women are persons in their own right. The star of the book is the villain. He speaks in a soft voice and is courteous to a fault, a sexual psychopath who early in the book picks Alafair for a victim. He frustrates all attempts at identification until a reference librarian lifts the veil he hides behind. The final confrontation between Alafair and Ronald Bledsoe is worth the price of the book. Behind Bledsoe are the representatives of money and power using him to seek more.The end of the book finds New Orleans permanently diminished, no longer the Big Sleazy. Power and money are still in the saddle unharmed by the slings and arrows of that which is good. Bernard Melanconon makes his own ending finding the glimmering lights in the water.
Interesting book set in the aftermath of Katrina. Kind of dark and depressing given the surroundings and the characters.
Robicheaux is assigned to New Orleans duty after Katrina, and becomes embroiled in a network of crimes involving rape, murder, theft, international smuggling, counterfeit bills, torture,and stalking of his own family. Between the absolutely grim scenes of Katrina's aftermath, the grisly violence of the crimes committed, and pervasive man's inhumanity to ma--this was not an easy listen. As a matter of fact, it made the daily news seem sanitized.
This is a highly satisfying read, particularly for fans of New Orleans and the mystery genre. I enjoyed the way Burke created really despicable villains and then thoroughly destroyed them piece by piece. I¿m also fascinated by post-apocalyptic books, so I found Burke¿s detailed descriptions of the aftereffects of Katrina on the city highly compelling. I got through this meaty read in less than two days ¿ my favorite novel since The Lincoln Lawyer.
There is a lot of violence and heartbreak in this novel. The characters rise and fall in the churn of the deep waters of the soul as well as of the hurricane's aftermath. There is also a good bit of Theology; the whole book is about spiritual warfare expressed through human viole heroism, and endurance.
I should have written my comments immediately but I didn't; it's a Robicheaux novels with the regulars back; Mr. Burke offers observations regarding the tragic conditions immediately following Katrina which reminds me that politicians are all noise and no action - three trillion dollar budget and, two years later, the area's still a place that, for the most part, is unihabitable. Well, enough of my soapbox.
This is the first James Lee Burke book that I've read, and I read this one because it was chosen for my face to face book club. I was pleasantly surprised with this read. I'm not sure what I expected, but I figured I would read it and forget it. I'm not sure how much this book is like Burke's other work. If you're a fan, please let me know. The book is part of his Dave Robicheaux series, which is set in New Orleans. The setting itself is really another character in the story. Burke spends a great deal of time detailing the surroundings, which I adored. I love to gain a sense of place while reading, especially when it's somewhere I've never been. As you might expect, there are descriptions of lovely tree-lined streets and sunsets over the water. As beautiful as many of these scenes are, there are equal numbers of disturbing scenes. You see, this book is set in New Orleans immediately before and after Hurricane Katrina. So, many of the descriptions are heartbreaking."The entire city, within one night, had been reduced to the technological level of the Middle Ages. But as we crossed under the elevated highway and headed toward the Convention Center, I saw one image that will never leave me and that will always remain emblematic of my experience in New Orleans . . . The body of a fat black man was bobbing face down against a piling. His dress clothes were puffed with air, his arms floating straight out from his sides. A dirty skim of yellow froth from our wake washed over his head. His body would remain there for at least three days."Burke is from Louisiana, and you really get a sense of the loss and anger that he feels about what happened following Katrina. The ineptitude and mismanagement of numerous state and federal agencies contributed to the deaths of so many. It is also obvious to the reader that Burke believes much of what happened following Katrina was fueled by racism.The book is ultimately a detective story with the flawed hero. The bad guys are a little more complex than the stereotypical criminals. One in particular, Bertrand Melancon, evokes pity for the situation he finds himself in. He has made some really bad choices, but he hasn't had many opportunities in life, either. No, that doesn't justify what he's done, but it does allow you to see possibly why he's the way he is. Overall, I enjoyed the book and recommend it to anyone who enjoys this genre.
When hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the southern Louisiana coastline in 2005, they left horror and destruction in their wake. Burke is a native and he writes of the storm's aftermath with great emotion. Detective Dave Robicheaux has to deal with multiple problems to deal with in the aftermath of the storm. A looter is murdered and another gravely injured while robbing the house of a local crime lord. A mysterious stranger arrives in town threatening Robicheaux's family, as he struggles to find a friend lost in the storm. The narrative is nearly overwhelmed by the heartbreaking descriptions of New Orleans in the wake of the storms. Burke's writing is evocative and emotional - the book is a dark night of the soul but deserves to be read.
Listened as an audiobook. Set in New Orleans before and after Katrina. A pretty intricate plot. But I enjoyed the story.
Listened to this book on audio. Will Patton was the reader. Wonderful.The story is told with such vitality and right on descriptions, that it made me cry.It didn't hurt that the plot was a definite "pull you in until the end" one. My husband and I would find reasons to go somewhere in the car so we could listen to this wonderful tale of Katrina ravaged NO.
New Iberia, the home of both author James Lee Burke, and his detective Dave Robicheaux, is just 200 km west of New Orleans. When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans at the end of August 2005, then people from lesser affected New Iberia were amongst the first on the scene.Burke obviously feels very strongly about what happened to New Orleans both as a consequence of the hurricane, but also the human and physical degradation that he witnessed. He says New Orleans was a song that went under the waves... Category 5 hurricanes don't take prisoners... New Orleans was systematically destroyed and that destruction begin in the early 1980s.. one of the most beautiful cities in the Western Hemisphere was killed three times, and not just by the forces of nature.It is against the background of what happened during and after hurricane Katrina that Burke sets THE TIN ROOF BLOW DOWN. The opening chapters introduce characters who run like threads through the rest of the book: Catholic priest Jude LeBlanc dying from cancer and a drug addict; Otis Baylor an insurance agent who loves his job and whose daughter Thelma has been raped by some black youths; Tom Claggart, Otis' neighbour, an export-import man; Clete Purcel, Dave Robicheaux's partner hunting for bail skips and drug pushers; the Melancon brothers and Andre Rochon, low life flotsam of New Orleans, connected to and symbolic of an underworld that thrives.As Hurricane Katrina advances on New Orleans, those who can take heed official warnings and evacuate or move into public buildings such as churches, the Convention Center and the Superdome. Those who can't are at the mercy of the rising waters from the tidal surge. And the low life turn to looting. The streets in every town in south west Louisiana become clogged with evacuation traffic seeking temporary shelter. No-one is prepared for the destructive force, five times greater than the bomb that hit Hiroshima, that strikes New Orleans.Dave Robicheaux begins to search for his friend Jude Le Blanc who appears to have disappeared while assisting people trapped in the attic of St. Mary Magdalene in the Lower Nine. Otis Baylor lives in uptown New Orleans and although his street is flooded, his house is on higher ground and is powered by its own generators. Four young black men in a boat are systematically working their way up his street entering the unoccupied houses and looting them. The looters leave and the crisis seems averted. The next day the boat comes back and someone is killed. The Otis Baylor case becomes just one of a number of investigations that Dave and Clete pursue.I did have a problem early in my reading of THE TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN with the amount of information that Burke was pumping out. Even as the plot developed it did make it difficult to distinguish what is now historical fact from crime fiction. The dilemma diminished as I read on, but for the first 100 pages or so I kept thinking of Truman Capote's "fictionalised facts" - hence yesterday's blog posting.My main problem probably stemmed from the fact that I haven't read all the Dave Robicheaux series, in fact very few, so this novel was almost a stand-alone read. While the plot is complete in itself, there is back-story I have missed. A second problem was the consequence of my poor knowledge of US geography: that I didn't have a vision of where New Iberia is in relation to New Orleans.However James Lee Burke has a pretty good job of bridging the story of what he wanted to say about Hurricane Katrina with elements of a thriller. I think perhaps the thriller bit didn't work as well as he wanted, but followers of Dave Robicheaux will no doubt have read of his role in the re-establishment of law and order in post-hurricane New Orleans with interest.I visited New Orleans over 35 years ago and it's sad to think that what I saw then has gone.