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The Tin Roof Blowdown - James Lee Burke

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Author: James Lee Burke / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 26 June 2008 / Genre: Crime & Thriller / Publisher: Orion Publishing Co / Title: The Tin Roof Blowdown / ISBN 13: 9780753823163 / ISBN 10: 0753823163 / Alternative EAN: 9780752889160

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      07.11.2009 15:39
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      Sometimes the best way to describe facts is through fiction.

      The Tin Roof Blowdown - James Lee Burke

      I never had any intention of reviewing another James Lee Burke / Detective Robicheaux novel. He is a writer I have long admired and I continue to draw much enjoyment from all the Robicheaux books, but in all honesty they are not hugely different from each other and having articulated the reasons I'd enjoyed one I would have been largely repeating myself to review any others.
      However, that was until I read The Tin Roof Blowdown. In many ways this is the book that Burke has been waiting to write or, to put it another way, the book I've been waiting for him to write. You see, Burke builds his Dave Robicheaux stories on the colourful backdrop of Louisiana, the Deep South and New Orleans and these are invested with as much narrative care and attention as the leading characters. Burke has such a passion for the region, its beauties and its glory but is never afraid to shine a light on its shortcomings. Its violence, its racism and its corruption are all exposed but never allowed to overwhelm the affection he holds for it.

      So when New Orleans and swathes of the gulf coast were devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 I knew that one day Burke would have to address this and I knew it would be worth reading. It's hard to over estimate the impact, both physically and culturally, that the hurricane had on New Orleans, the United States and indeed the wider world. That so much devastation and human suffering could be visited on such a famous city, in the most powerful country in the world was deeply shocking, the news footage from the first few days looked more like third world events than mainland America. It asked some very uncomfortable questions of American society, questions that remain largely unanswered even today.
      The story opens in the days preceding the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. The population of New Orleans and the surrounding conurbations are either evacuating or battening themselves and their property down in preparation for the onslaught. Predictions of its severity vary but when it hits the impact is far greater than anyone thought possible and the once thriving city is thrust back to the middle ages. In the chaos that follows Robicheaux and his department are called in to assist in bringing a sense of order and protection to the city but what they find is a horror beyond any recurring nightmares the detective has of his time in Vietnam.

      The flooding has deprived the city of all utilities; it has backed up the sanitation system so that the streets run with a city's worth of effluence and the bloated bodies of drowned victims pile up uncollected on the streets and in the houses. While many of the city's authorities; the coastguard, the hospitals, work to help as many as they can there is talk of profiteering and looting across the city both from the criminals and corrupt police officers and city officials. Street gangs are running wild, terrorising survivors and murderous score settling is being carried out on both sides of the legal divide.
      Amongst this horror the core stories of the novel are played out. Four looters strike lucky and find money and diamonds in a house they visit, unfortunately for them the house belongs to a local mafia boss. As they leave the property they are shot at and injured by local homeowners turned possible vigilantes. As Robicheaux investigates the shootings, amongst all the other cases he builds up in the aftermath, he uncovers a web of intrigue and corruption that again threatens to overwhelm him. As he chases down lead after lead he finds that his family are being stalked by a psychopath and are in very real danger.

      If you remove Hurricane Katrina from the equation this becomes a very straightforward Robicheaux novel. The crimes and the characters are not especially compelling, the looters and the Mafiosi are pretty low rent and the psychopath, while well written, is not a patch on those encountered in previous books.
      But you can't ignore the hurricane. It is the elephant in the room and it squeezes everything else to the margins. It will define New Orleans for centuries to come and it will have changed every book Burke intends to write. The world of Dave Robicheaux has been changed forever by events in the real world and Burke will have to factor this into his future work. For now he has done the city he loves justice. He has weaved the tragedy of the real world into his fictional universe in a completely plausible way. He has ensured that those events are not forgotten and they are not revised. It is an awful story, it is distressing and it is chastising but Burke has done his job well.

      This may not be much of a Robicheaux mystery but it is one hell of a great book and I would heartily recommend it.

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        27.09.2008 12:54
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        You Won't Want To Put This Book Down

        James Lee Burke is one of my favourite authors, and he has published many previous novels, a lot of them featuring Detective Dave Robicheaux. The Tin Roof Blowdown is probably one of his finest novels, and is nothing less than a roller coaster of excitement. The book is set mainly in a New Orleans devastated by Hurricane Katrina and gives us an insight into the devastation and the horror that came with it and in its aftermath. The natural disaster that was Katrina is of almost Armageddon proportions and it thanks to the profound style of written and descriptive detail from James, we can almost experience it for ourselves. There were a few times that I wanted to put the book down but I dared not as it is a very involving almost epic read. The characters in the book are well developed and three dimensional, as we read about them we grow to care about them. The first hundred and fifty pages or so are the best and most involving. The internal monologue does get slightly confusing at times and having some background knowledge of Robicheaux character from James previous novels is recommended (but not essential.) But other than that I don't think there's anything I can personally fault about The Tin Roof Blowdown. It takes a lot for me to award a book five stars but in this case it really deserves it. I recommend to all.

        (I'm a reviewer on Amazon, and my 'better' reviews are copied from there to dooyoo. Please feel free to check out my Amazon profile under my real name of Mr Andrew M Kerr.)

        Thanks for reading.

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