Book 5: The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke

November 19, 2008 at 9:45 pm (Review) (, , , )

James Lee Burke has set all his Robicheaux novels in the environs of New Orleans and Louisiana. There are about 10 books featuring this detective this one is set in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. If you are aware of the previous books then you will be aware of the affection that Lee Burke has for New Orleans and its people. While he never flinched from the less savoury aspects of the city, it was clear that this was a city he loved. It is therefore understandable that his rage at the hand fate dealt the city and then  the grotesque neglect of the government in the face of that fate, is palpable and at times jumps off the page so vividly that for a moment you’re that furious too. The vivid descriptions of a city destroyed by nature and neglect are powerful and form the true crux of this book.

The story centres primarily round the search for looters and the blood diamonds they stole from a local kingpin sort. In the process of escaping the neighbourhood they’re looting 2 of the looters are shot. The other two leg it to varying degrees. It is in the process of investigating the shooting that Robicheaux becomes ensnared in the plot. Which is to do no justice to the complexity of the story and the way the characters interlink. for the most part they are all linked well and elegantly my only reservations with the links  is the connection between the looter and one suspects in the shooting (a neighbour of the kingpin, Otis Baylor). It seemed a bit trite and contrived to me but otherwise they worked.

Far more interesting than the plot and how it is hung together, is how the story works as a morality tale. It looks at how when evil comes in to our lives it is how we find a way to live with that evil that is important. In the case of Detective Robicheaux when a PI who also has an interest in the diamonds threatens his daughter, he creates a ripple that affects the fibre of the family. In the case of New Orleans horror comes in the form of hurricane but how people both in and outside of New Orleans react to that is where the real tragedy lies. 

As ever Lee Burke crafts an interesting story with an immensely appealing if flawed central character. However it is the story of a city that raises this above his usual level. The story of New Orleans is devastating and Lee Burke does not spare us discomfort. He is unflinching and unrelenting and because of that elevates this story to something bigger and more important than merely a novel. It’s a historical document.


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