Monday, January 7, 2008
The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke
This is the first James Lee Burke book that I've read, and I read this one because it was chosen for my face to face book club. I was pleasantly surprised with this read. I'm not sure what I expected, but I figured I would read it and forget it. I'm not sure how much this book is like Burke's other work. If you're a fan, please let me know. The book is part of his Dave Robicheaux series, which is set in New Orleans. The setting itself is really another character in the story. Burke spends a great deal of time detailing the surroundings, which I adored. I love to gain a sense of place while reading, especially when it's somewhere I've never been. As you might expect, there are descriptions of lovely tree-lined streets and sunsets over the water. As beautiful as many of these scenes are, there are equal numbers of disturbing scenes. You see, this book is set in New Orleans immediately before and after Hurricane Katrina. So, many of the descriptions are heartbreaking.
"The entire city, within one night, had been reduced to the technological level of the Middle Ages. But as we crossed under the elevated highway and headed toward the Convention Center, I saw one image that will never leave me and that will always remain emblematic of my experience in New Orleans . . . The body of a fat black man was bobbing face down against a piling. His dress clothes were puffed with air, his arms floating straight out from his sides. A dirty skim of yellow froth from our wake washed over his head. His body would remain there for at least three days."
Burke is from Louisiana, and you really get a sense of the loss and anger that he feels about what happened following Katrina. The ineptitude and mismanagement of numerous state and federal agencies contributed to the deaths of so many. It is also obvious to the reader that Burke believes much of what happened following Katrina was fueled by racism.
The book is ultimately a detective story with the flawed hero. The bad guys are a little more complex than the stereotypical criminals. One in particular, Bertrand Melancon, evokes pity for the situation he finds himself in. He has made some really bad choices, but he hasn't had many opportunities in life, either. No, that doesn't justify what he's done, but it does allow you to see possibly why he's the way he is. Overall, I enjoyed the book and recommend it to anyone who enjoys this genre.