“The Tin Roof Blowdown,” (2007) is the 16th novel published by American author James Lee Burke in his mighty New York Times bestselling Detective Dave Robicheaux series. Like the earlier books of the series, and most of the series’ works to follow, the book, a Southern noir, police procedural/mystery, is set in and around New Orleans, Louisiana, more or less home country for Burke, who was born in Houston, Texas, and grew up on the Texas-Louisiana gulf coast. This time around, Burke has collected and disciplined himself enough to deal with the way Hurricane Katrina, a storm with greater impact than the atomic bomb that destroyed the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945, destroyed the Gulf Coast, and particularly Southern Louisiana/New Orleans, in August 2005. And, I expect, this book has more than satisfied the many of his fans who had been waiting for it. The book is overwhelming, full of Burke’s, and Robicheaux’s, pain and anger brought on by Katrina and its aftermath. After all, Burke has used this series for many years to show his love for the land, the flora and fauna, and the cultures of New Orleans, and it is his reaction to the hurricane’s devastation of the city that dominates the book. There are mysteries, of course. New Iberia detective Robicheaux has been deployed to the Big Easy in its agony. In its post-apocalyptic landscape, he must hunt looters and vigilantes, and find two serial rapists, and a morphine-addicted priest. Burke attended Southwestern Louisiana Institute; later received B. A. and M. A. degrees from the University of Missouri in 1958 and 1960 respectively. Over the years he worked as a landman for Sinclair Oil Company, a pipeliner, land surveyor, newspaper reporter, college English professor, social worker on Skid Row in Los Angeles, clerk for the Louisiana Employment Service, and instructor in the U. S. Job Corps. His work has twice been awarded an Edgar for Best Crime Novel of the Year. At least eight of his novels have been New York Times bestsellers. Burke delivers energy and power, and, to quote the great 20th century poet William Butler Yeats, passionate intensity, in this work. I cannot, of course, read every book published, but I have a hard time imagining one, fiction or nonfiction, that can summon up Hurricane Katrina and its horrifying aftermath, brought upon the city as much by incompetence, indifference, and greed, as by the raw power of nature, with a more passionate intensity.
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