The fictional parts of The Tin Roof Blowdown pale in comparison with the factual references in the book to the horrible disasters that befell those who lived in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina blasted its way across those vulnerable levees. Building on that apocalyptic event, we see souls stripped to their cores . . . revealing much that is normally hidden during "civilized" times. James Lee Burke has written one of the most powerful novels I've ever read about troubles bring out whatever is in us.
Mr. Burke does a marvelous job of capturing the shifting emotions of those who lived through the experience. Many began by being optimistic that things would not be too bad. Others saw the storm as an opportunity for gain. But soon, the caring were overwhelmed by the horrible dangers being faced by the vulnerable. With unending challenges, emotions became dulled through fatigue. After a little rest, the civilized veneer began to return and people were outraged by the excesses. As the implications of all the harm sunk in, people just wanted to forget about it. Those who had felt something for the victims eventually go back to looking out for themselves. No one knows what really happened to most of the victims . . . other than that they were abandoned by those who might have helped them. It's a time of infamy in American history . . . especially since we did it to ourselves.
As the book opens, Dave Robicheaux's friend, Clete Purcel is looking to recover some cons who have skipped bail. Jude LeBlanc, a priest who is dying of cancer, heads by bus for a date with destiny in the lower end of New Orleans' Ninth Ward. Otis Baylor, a self-satisfied insurance agent, is planning to sit out the storm in comfort with his family thanks to his generators. Baylor's neighbor, the export-import businessman Tom Claggart, is expecting to have to defend his property from "the black Irish" after nightfall. Dave Robicheaux is loaned to New Orleans for the duration. Soon, the storm will mix these lives in new ways.
Then, all hell breaks loose. People have to face their worst fears . . . and beyond. What will they do?
The consequences of those actions reverberate through each person's life . . . and those they hold nearest and dearest. The complications develop as each one seeks to either restore what has been lost . . . or to gain something that's not deserved.
Meanwhile, some valuables are missing. Naturally, there's a scramble to recover the missing items. That scramble brings the worst sort of people out of the woodwork and the worst out of those who are searching. Dave finds himself personally drawn into the drama as one of the searchers develops a yen to hurt Alafair, his daughter.
There are a lot of unexpected dimensions in this story. That's what makes this a special book. Occasionally, Mr. Burke gives in to describing what we expect. It's in those rare moments that the power of originality in The Tin Roof Blowdown will hit you.
Keep your heart pure!