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Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Tin Roof Blowdown

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were a deadly one-two punch to the gut of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast and the aftermath of those storms has been well-documented by newspapers, magazines and non-fiction books. But James Lee Burke, with his 16th Dave Robicheaux novel, The Tin Roof Blowdown, has accomplished something that none of that writing was able to do. Burke gives his readers a sense of what it must have been like to be trapped in the chaos of New Orleans during the long hours before help reached the city, days during which civil authority largely disappeared and it was up to each individual to see to the safety and survival of himself and his family.

When Detective Dave Robicheaux's New Iberia police department was asked to take on some of the work that could not be handled by the New Orleans police he was shocked by the destruction he found there as he made his way through the city he knew so well. He came to realize that the city he loved had probably received a death blow from which it might never recover and he grieved as if he had lost a member of his family. But even worse, not long after being assigned to work a case involving the shooting of two young black looters in a wealthy New Orleans neighborhood, Robicheaux found that the chaos of New Orleans had followed him home to New Iberia.

The four looters had made the biggest score of their short and violent criminal career. But, unfortunately for them, they made it by inadvertently robbing and destroying the home of one of the most powerful mobsters in the city, a man who wanted both revenge and his property back and who had the means to accomplish both goals. Robicheaux, searching for the surviving looters while trying to identify the person who shot two of them, soon came to realize that the case was much more complicated than the one he had anticipated.

Dave Robicheaux is a man in constant battle with his own demons. He still dreams of his days in Viet Nam and of his own violent past. He is a recovering alcoholic, a disgraced ex-New Orleans cop who was eventually hired in New Iberia, and a man who has paid the price of having a wife killed by one of the criminals he was trying to bring to justice. When he finds his new wife and grown daughter threatened by men who will do anything to get their hands on what was stolen in New Orleans, Robicheaux struggles mightily to contain those demons even while knowing that he will ultimately do whatever it takes to protect those he loves.

James Lee Burke has done the near impossible. He has kept his Dave Robicheaux series as fresh as the day he started it sixteen books ago, and he has used Robicheaux and all the characters that fill those books to tell what amounts to a classic tragedy. The Tin Roof Blowdown is much more than a book for Dave Robicheaux fans, offering a glimpse into the human soul and forcing readers to wonder just what they would do if confronted with a similar version of hell. Read this book.

Rated at: 5.0
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