Occasionally a book comes along that deftly combines the realities of our 21st Century world with elements of fiction, a book that takes the reader on a fascinating ride through both worlds, seamlessly slipping back and forth between them.
"The Tin Roof Blowdown" by James Lee Burke is one such book.
Originally published in 2007 and recently released in paperback, "The Tin Roof Blowdown" is a masterful account of Hurricane Katrina and its devastating impact on New Orleans, with an engaging story about Burke's longtime protagonist, Dave Robicheaux, tracking down bad guys through it all.
As we approach the third anniversary not only of Katrina's legacy of death and destruction but of the federal government's legacy of ineptitude and politicking, Burke is highly effective in describing both as a backdrop to the main story of his mystery novel. But his approach, as a lifelong resident of southern Louisiana, is passionate and at times angry.
James Lee Burke is my all-time favorite author. I've read all of his books, following the tragedies and triumphs of Robicheaux. Unlike many bestselling authors who seem to "phone it in" after the first few books, Burke just keeps getting better and better. Almost 30 books later, "The Tin Roof Blowdown" is his best work so far.
Although his fame is the result of writing mysteries, Burke has a much more literary style than his contemporaries, adding rich textures of descriptions of time and place to his stories. And that is an asset as he describes the impact of Katrina on the Big Easy.
In his epilogue, Burke writes, "The failure to repair the levees before Katrina and the abandonment of tens of thousands of people to their fate in the aftermath have causes that I'll let others sort out. But in my view the irrevocable fact remains that we saw an American city turned into Baghdad on the southern rim of the United States. If we have a precedent in our history for what happened in New Orleans, it's lost on me."
I highly recommend "The Tin Roof Blowdown." Especially during this presidential election year.
And, come Aug. 29, take a moment of silence for the victims of Katrina, dead and alive.
(Joe Neri is the co-owner of The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona. He can be contacted at (928) 282-2284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)