The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke

Every time I read a new James Lee Burke novel, I often ask myself if that book will be the pinnacle of his incredible writing career. I can’t ever imagine Mr. Burke getting any better, but then he surprises me with yet another masterpiece of fiction. This is certainly the case for The Tin Roof Blowdown, Mr. Burke’s depiction of Hurricane Katrina and the calamities of the people of The Big Easy and New Iberia Parrish. It is unfathomable that human beings would commit acts of murder, robbery, and destruction during a natural disaster like Katrina, but Mr. Burke presents these villains of the night with perfect description. We meet a junkie priest riddled with cancer who fights for the lives of the people of his flock. We meet a family that has never dealt with the rape of a young daughter until they see her rapists cruising in a boat down the street looting innocent people. We meet a mobster crime lord who rules the underworld of blood diamonds and illegal crime from the counters of his small floral store. And there is the masochistic torturer who takes an immediate liking to Dave Robicheaux’s daughter Alafair. Perhaps one of the most interesting characters of The Tin Roof Blowdown is Bertrand Melancon, a common street thug who befriends Robicheaux for protection after he discovers that he and his looter friends have vandalized the home of the most dangerous mobster in New Orleans. Like a ringmaster in a three-ring circus, Dave Robicheaux manipulates the conglomeration of jaded characters in the catastrophic aftermath of a deadly storm. To help him tame the crazy animals, his ex-nun and wife Molly makes several appearances and appears a stronger character than she was depicted in most recent books. Of course, Clete Purcell is back as Robicheaux’s sometimes-manic sidekick who once again finds himself in a world of trouble. This is crime fiction at his best, yet the Tin Roof Blowdown is so much more. There are side stories that portray New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. At times, the reader wants to turn their head away from the graphic details of the bloated bodies floating down the streets or people drowning in attics when a rooftop separated them from survival. Burke tells the difficult stories he undoubtedly witnessed during Katrina and dares us to forget the calamities that besieged the poorest inhabitants of the Big Easy. The Tin Roof Blowdown is both an excellent crime fiction novel and a first-hand history of the aftermath of one of the most deadly natural disasters in American history.

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