The Tin Roof Blowdown: A Dave Robicheaux Novel. James Lee Burke’s latest novel, Tin Roof Blow Down takes place where all of his Dave Robicheaux crime thrillers do—in the southern realms of Louisiana, and in New Orleans in particular. This time though, the very real tragedy and chaos caused by hurricane Katrina lend a completely new element, which Burke relays with heartfelt passion and intense insight.
I’m not terribly big on crime thrillers, but Burke’s intricately woven stories are always so interlaced with philosophical depictions of our society, politics, and environmental issues, and are so eloquently embossed, that I recommend all of them and consider them more as human interest stories. James Lee Burke writes crime like poetry. His novels are always chock-full of peculiar characters that run the gamut from exemplary saints to gutter trash, and Tin Roof Blow Down’s portraits fill up the canvas fast.
Back in action is Cleat Purcell, N.O.P.D.’s fallen-from-grace ex-cop, turned private-man-hunter, and Robicheaux’s best friend. He knows every downtrodden hooker and criminal in New Orleans and he just lost two thugs he had in custody to the mayhem that has the city on its knees. And while Robicheaux wants only to live a fairly normal life (on the wagon) in New Iberia, two hours west of New Orleans, his precinct chief, Helen, has different plans for him.
She has donated his services to what is left of New Orleans, which isn’t much. The crippled city is swarming with looters, murderers, and rapists now preying on the helpless, stranded, and dying—all amongst thousands of dead bodies floating in the streets, buried in the rubble, and caught up in the branches of trees. While you’re aware that the area is floundering for survival, Burke zones in on a series of events that draw-in his characters, tighter and tighter, making his story a foreground for portraying this historic catastrophe.
Purcell’s thugs, now on the loose again, happen to be the rapists of Thelma Baler, who lives, still stricken, with her father and stepmother down the street from a house the boys decide to loot. Thelma sees and recognizes them through the window. More unfortunately, for them, they take off with stolen loot, worth millions, and bring down the wrath of high-roller Sydney Covack and his connections on their heads.
While Cleat Purcell gets Robicheaux to help him find the thugs, Covack hires his own men to recover the goods as well. In the hunt to find the surviving thieves, and the booty, Cleat, Robicheaux, and Robicheaux’s family all come under attack. When it comes to protecting his wife, Molly, who was once a nun, and his lovely daughter, Alafaire, Robicheaux holds nothing back.
With descriptions that paint pictures you can practically taste and smell (even the air becomes part of the story), this book has you gagging one minute, and relaxing under a giant live oak, enjoying the breeze, a few chapters later. It is Burke at his best, again.
As Dave Robicheaux says, “Louisiana is not a state…it’s a third world country.” And, as if it were its own country, the unique language and accent of the Acadian bayou country surrounding New Orleans is one of a kind. Was Will Patton raised there? He speaks it perfectly, and, if you love its charm, you’ll soak up his voice like a sponge.