The Tin Roof Blowdown, by James Lee Burke

Looters and shooters
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The Independent Culture

It's been a long time since a crime novel made me cry. It's been a long time since a crime novel made every hair on my body stand on end. The Tin Roof Blowdown did both. Burke's last book, Pegasus Descending, ended as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita advanced on New Orleans, and I looked forward to him writing about what happened next.

At the time of the disaster, sitting comfortably thousands of miles away, anyone like me who had ever visited New Orleans, or even those who hadn't, couldn't avoid being shocked as the story unfolded. But not all the TV reports I saw, or the acres of newsprint I read about the disaster brought home the horror of what happened like this book does. The city was ravaged twice by the forces of nature, and the aftermath seemed like the end of days for so many people and their property. The events changed forever the city that its inhabitants happily called The Big Easy, Sin City or The Great Whore of Babylon, the spiritual home of jazz and rock '*' roll, immortalised on scratchy old records by Fats Domino, Freddy Cannon, Gary "US" Bonds, Doctor John and literally hundreds more. Read it and weep like I did.

Burke's serial character, police officer Dave Robicheaux, is sent into New Orleans from his home turf of New Iberia to try and maintain a semblance of law and order, while helping his old friend Clete Purcel round up a pair of bail jumpers, as cops desert their posts, and looters and shooters take over the streets. But the plot is not what makes this a superb novel, or indeed the style of writing that Burke has honed down to a razor's edge. In my opinion The Tin Roof Blowdown is more than a crime novel; more than a literary novel even. It is a work of profound historical value and importance that should, no, must be read by anyone interested in what can happen when a holocaust breaks loose and civilisation breaks down. To say I enjoyed this book is an understatement, but it was enjoyment in a guilty way, as I read about what happened over that short period of time when the world changed for hundreds of thousands of people, never, it seems, to return to what it was. There were moments when I wanted to put the book down, it was so painful to continue. But I couldn't. Nor, I dare say, will anyone else.

Orion, £12.99

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