TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN, THE by James Lee Burke - SIGNED FIRST EDITION BOOKSee all titles by James Lee Burke.
No popular living author is more associated with New Orleans and Southern Louisiana than James Lee Burke. His Dave Robicheaux series is monumental not only as an achievement in crime writing, but as an American elegy: for the city of his youth, before it was ravaged by crack cocaine and government neglect, and for a vanishing Cajun way of life. If there is a writer equal to the task of capturing the chaos and heartbreak wrought by Katrina, it’s James Lee Burke.
THE TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN thrusts the New Iberia police department and Detective Dave Robicheaux headlong into the disaster zone. Katrina has just leveled New Orleans, and Robicheaux and other relief workers are combing the flooded city for survivors.
For Robicheaux, one missing soul stands out from the thousands: his childhood friend Jude LeBlanc. LeBlanc grew up to be a priest who happened to be a morphine addict—or maybe it was the other way around. As the water line rose and darkness fell, members of LeBlanc’s Lower Ninth Ward congregation were trapped in the church attic. LeBlanc managed to snag a boat and was last seen cutting a hole in the roof to let those inside escape, when there was a cry in the dark and then silence. The boat disappeared into the night. LeBlanc hasn’t been seen since. Almost everyone in the church drowned.
As the floodwaters recede and Robicheaux returns to New Iberia, the LeBlanc case continues to eat at him knowing that LeBlanc was probably killed for his boat in those desperate hours a boat meant the difference between living and drowning. Robicheaux traces the boat to a robbery and homicide that took place across town hours after the priest’s disappearance.
Four black men were motoring a boat through an uptown neighborhood and looting houses as they came across them, when shots rang out. An unidentified sniper killed one of the thieves and rendered another paraplegic before the others fled the scene. The evidence points toward a resident of the neighborhood, a mild-mannered insurance adjuster named Otis Baylor. Baylor’s teenage daughter was gang-raped two years ago by men who were never caught. The looters match their description.
The irony of the situation being that the looters are probably dead men anyway. At the time of the shooting, they were robbing the house of Sidney Kovick, a New Orleans mobster notorious for his facility with a chainsaw. He’s rumored to have kept millions in blood diamonds stashed in his dry wall—dry wall that was smashed to bits by the looters. Kovick isn’t waiting for the cops to recover his contraband.
One of the looters, Bernard Melancon, reaches out to Robicheaux. He is a common thug, possibly responsible for the death of a priest and the rape of teenage girl. But now he seeks redemption—if Kovick doesn’t get to him first.
Meanwhile, a degenerate named Ronald Bledsoe shows up in New Iberia, claiming to be a private detective. Robicheaux suspects that Kovick hired Bledsoe to recover the diamonds. But Bledsoe’s leering advances toward Robicheaux’s adopted daughter Alafair suggest another agenda, which becomes clear only in a shocking and bloody climax.
THE TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN weaves familiar images of the Katrina tragedy—refugees on rooftops, looters on boats—into a mystery that entertains even as it makes unsettling observations about the race and class tensions that exploded in the hurricane’s wake. The moral divisions here are as muddy as Mississippi floodwaters. If Otis Baylor is a murderer, he is also a sympathetic father. If Bernard Melancon is a rapist, he is also a product of a brutal upbringing in the streets of the Ninth Ward. And if Father Jude LeBlanc was crippled by drugs and human weakness before the storm finished the job, then so too was the city he called home.
This may be one of the darkest of the Robicheaux series, and readers will be comforted by the presence of familiar faces: Dave Robicheaux, whose rage and stubbornness belie a keen understanding of human nature his spirited wife (and former nun) Molly and his debauched, indomitable partner Clete Purcell, who proclaims early on, “You don’t surrender the place of your birth either to evil men or natural calamity.” Katrina and the crimes committed in her wake put that claim—and all the stalwarts of this remarkable series—to the ultimate test.
Rising to the challenge as well is author James Lee Burke. When it comes to capturing nature and violence on the page, he is almost without peer among his contemporaries. And in Katrina, he tackles what may be the biggest subject of his long and illustrious writing career. THE TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN is a thrilling and heartbreaking work by an American master.