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The Tin Roof Blowdown: A Dave Robicheaux Novelby James Lee Burke
Synopses & Reviews
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 James Lee Burke's new novel, 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.
In a singular style that defies genre, James Lee Burke has created a hauntingly bleak picture of life in New Orleans after Katrina. Filled with complex characters and depictions of people at both their best and worst, The Tin Roof Blowdown is not only an action-packed crime thriller, but a poignant story of courage and sacrifice that critics are already calling Burke's best work.
"In Burke's meticulously textured 16th Dave Robicheaux novel (after 2006's Pegasus Descending), Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath provide the backdrop for an account of sin and redemption in New Orleans. When Detective Robicheaux's department is assigned to investigate the shooting of two looters in a wealthy neighborhood, he learns that they had ransacked the home of New Orleans's most powerful mobster. Now he must locate the surviving looter before others do, and in the process he learns the fate of a priest who disappeared in the ill-fated Ninth Ward trying to rescue his trapped parishioners. Burke creates dense, rich prose that draws the reader into a web of greed and violence. Each of his characters feels the hands of both grace and of perdition, and the final outcome of their struggle is never quite certain. Burke showcases all that was both right and wrong in our response to this national disaster, proving along the way that nobody captures the spirit of Gulf Coast Louisiana better." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"'In Burke's meticulously textured 16th Dave Robicheaux novel (after 2006's Pegasus Descending), Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath provide the backdrop for an account of sin and redemption in New Orleans. When Detective Robicheaux's department is assigned to investigate the shooting of two looters in a wealthy neighborhood, he learns that they had ransacked the home of New Orleans's most powerful mobster. Now he must locate the surviving looter before others do, and in the process he learns the fate of a priest who disappeared in the ill-fated Ninth Ward trying to rescue his trapped parishioners. Burke creates dense, rich prose that draws the reader into a web of greed and violence. Each of his characters feels the hands of both grace and of perdition, and the final outcome of their struggle is never quite certain. Burke showcases all that was both right and wrong in our response to this national disaster, proving along the way that nobody captures the spirit of Gulf Coast Louisiana better. (July)' Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)"
"At the start of James Lee Burke's new novel, Detective Dave Robicheaux describes one of his still-recurring nightmares of combat in Vietnam, and adds his hope that '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.' Then he explains: 'But that was before Katrina. That was before a storm with... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) 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 forces of nature.' For Robicheaux, Katrina is another Vietnam: a new source of pain, outrage, death and disillusion, a final battle for this old soldier to undertake. '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. No matter how awful you now think Katrina was, you'll come away from this novel knowing that it was far, far worse. At the outset, Robicheaux is looking for a friend, a heroin-addicted priest, who, as the hurricane approached, went to help out in the endangered 9th Ward. The priest found a boat and was trying to save people trapped in the attic of a church when some petty criminals stole the boat. They pilot it to a wealthy Uptown neighborhood, where they make the mistake of taking some valuable diamonds from the deserted home of New Orleans' most vicious mob boss. The mobster seeks revenge, and for the rest of the novel Robicheaux is caught between him and his psychopathic hired killer on the one hand and the equally dangerous but outgunned thieves on the other. 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. Here, for example, he sums up hundreds of deaths: 'They drowned in attics and on the second floors of their houses. They drowned along the edges of Highway 23 when they tried to drive out of Plaquemines Parish. They drowned in retirement homes and in trees and on car tops while they waved frantically at helicopters flying by overhead. They died in hospitals and nursing homes of dehydration and heat exhaustion, and they died because an attending nurse could not continue to operate a hand ventilator for hours upon hours without rest.' In an epilogue, Robicheaux permits himself a moment of sentimentality: 'Perhaps the city has found its permanence inside its own demise, like Atlantis, trapped forever under the waves, the sun never harsh, filtered through the green tint of the ocean so that neither rust nor moth nor decay ever touches its face.' But he rejects that fantasy and declares that 'New Orleans was systematically destroyed and that destruction began in the early 1980s with the deliberate reduction by half of federal funding to the city and the simultaneous introduction of crack cocaine into the welfare projects.' The author denounces corporate greed, as when politically connected companies given reconstruction funds skim billions off the top, and he has only scorn for the cynicism and incompetence of state and federal officials who have turned their backs on the victims of Katrina. Burke, who knows the South well, adds: 'Right-wing talk shows abounded with callers viscerally enraged at the fact evacuees were receiving a onetime two-thousand-dollar payment to help them buy food and find lodging. The old southern nemesis was back, naked and raw and dripping — absolute hatred for the poorest of the poor.' Burke's own anger is equally naked and raw, as it should be. My complaint about 'The Tin Roof Blowdown' is that Burke's crime story isn't equal to the larger horror that surrounds it. He denounces political corruption and cynicism, but I wish he'd dramatized it more. I wish he'd shown us less of his mobsters and psychopaths and more of the upstanding businessmen and politicians and talk-show messiahs who profited from the disaster. Perhaps that's unfair — Burke is a crime novelist, not a political novelist — and this may be the best fictional portrait of Katrina that we have so far. But there's a bigger, better novel, perhaps by some as-yet-unknown Robert Penn Warren, waiting to be written about this American tragedy." Reviewed by Patrick Anderson, whose e-mail address is mondaythrillers(at symbol)aol.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Though some of James Lee Burke's recent thrillers have been uneven, The Tin Roof Blowdown is not only a top-notch mystery but a moving post-Katrina tribute to his beloved New Orleans....Burke's elegy is so raw, painful, and eloquent, it's almost hard to concentrate on the case. (Grade: A)" Entertainment Weekly
"Burke writes about [Katrina's] aftermath as vividly and powerfully as any nonfiction chronicler....
"There's a great deal of pain in Burke's books, as well as a great deal of what some might view as preaching or philosophizing. Burke can do it with the zeal of the newly converted, but it never detracts from rollicking and heartfelt stories about one of the most beautiful and perhaps most permanently damaged parts of the nation." Rocky Mountain News
"Burke's flair for concocting fictional evil has not been completely compromised by his sadness and anger over the Crescent City's fate....[An] extraordinarily satisfying reading experience." Los Angeles Times
"The best Robicheaux novel of the past several years." Library Journal
"Burke masterfully interweaves elements of violence, courage and regret with a deep sense of what makes us good or bad — or both — especially in times of crisis." Miami Herald
"What's so brilliant about Burke, in the end, is how he manages to show the ways the legitimate and illicit worlds had a special relationship in New Orleans." Denver Post
Louisiana lawman Dave Robicheaux returns in an adventure as timely as real life. Detective Robicheaux, driven by a keen sense of right versus wrong in the fight against crime following Hurricane Katrina, has his own demons of alcoholism and rage to contend with as well.
About the Author
James Lee Burke is the author of nineteen books, including the bestsellers Heartwood, Sunset Limited, Cimarron Rose, Cadillac Jukebox, Burning Angel, and Dixie City Jam. He lives with his wife in Missoula, Montana, and New Iberia, Louisiana.
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