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The Tin Roof Blowdown: A Dave Robicheaux Novel    by James Lee Burke order for
Tin Roof Blowdown
by James Lee Burke
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

James Lee Burke sets The Tin Roof Blowdown, his 16th Dave Robicheaux novel, during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and in its aftermath. Detective Robicheaux, who works for the New Iberia Police Department, investigates the disappearance of a priest who was trying to rescue people, as well as the shooting of black looters, some of whom were implicated in the brutal rape of a white teenager, and who made the mistake of vandalizing the wrong mansion, and robbing its gangster owner of substantial cash and blood diamonds.

As the novel begins, Robicheaux suffers a nightmare about Vietnam, from which he awakens to tell himself, '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.' He goes on to muse, 'But that was before Katrina ... 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 the forces of nature.' That becomes a theme of the book, as we see Katrina and the devastation, horror, desperation, fear, inaction and corruption - as well as acts of heroism - that followed it through the eyes of James LeeBurke's battle scarred protagonist.

Jude LeBlanc, the priest who disappeared, was a childhood friend of Robicheaux's. Ravaged by terminal cancer and addicted to morphine, he ministered to the folk of New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward. We only find out his fate late in the story. The intersecting subplot involves the looters, with the self-destructive Clete Purcell - the kind of friend 'who covers your back, tightens your slack, and humps your pack' - on the job, tracking them down. After the hurricane hits, people linked to the robbery are tortured and killed, and a very sinister individual appears on the fringes of Robicheaux's life, expressing a disturbing interest in his daughter Alafair.

Along with relief work, Dave and Clete steadily pursue leads, piecing together puzzles that merge into a bigger picture. One of the looters, Bertrand, seeks redemption, though he has no hope for a future. Interspersed with the mystery, James Lee Burke writes a lyrical paean to a lost way of life, telling us that 'New Orleans had been a song, not a city.' And Robicheaux's Epilogue speaks of the systematic destruction of New Orleans through cuts in federal funding and the introduction of crack cocaine in the 1980s, expressing compassion for those who, like Bertrand, 'did not get to choose the world in which they were born.' The Tin Roof Blowdown is James Lee Burke at his best and that's really saying something.

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