I fell in love with the writing of James Lee Burke when I came across "Cimarron Rose". At last, I thought, a crime writer who dares to use an adjective here and there, even, gasp, adverbs. Burke has an expressive flow to his prose which carries you along, effortlessly, as though transported on a current of warm air. This makes his work ideally suited to settings in the southern states - the fictional town of Cimarron Rose is located in Texas - where the heat, dust and occasional hurricane provide the ideal backdrop for his laid back style.
For those paying attention the word "hurricanes" was a clue. "The Tin Roof Blowdown" is set in New Orleans at the time of That hurricane. Dave Robicheaux, hero of many previous Burke novels, witnesses the destruction of his city. Then he sees it destroyed a second time, by another blow down. Then a third, by government inaction and the profiteers who descend like vultures on the corpse. Robicheaux's city dies three times, just like his comrades during a fire fight in Vietnam long ago. And there are other deaths too. Two looters are shot in a wealthy suburb and Robicheaux must find the killer, his investigation bringing his own family under threat as powerful men seek to conceal exactly what the looters had stolen.
It's a lot simpler than it sounds. Burke isn't a fan of tight plotting and is quite capable of shamelessly introducing a new suspect two thirds of the way into the tale if he feels the action is starting to flag. He's not averse to the occasional bout of improbability too - how many rapists are stupid enough to leave the stuffed toy carried by their last victim in the back of their van, along with the rope used to bind the victim? How likely is it that a PI pal of Robicheaux's would happen to take a look inside the van and put evidence, crime and perp together?
Not very likely. But Burke's prose allows him to skim over these rough spots. A more serious weakness is the spiritual note he attempts to strike. Mysterious lights appear under the flood waters when a saintly priest is attacked. One of the rapists seeks redemption and is last seen sailing a boat towards nothing so commonplace as land. And the devil is found lurking too of course, setting the scene for a final showdown and fairly predictable conclusion. This element mixes uneasily with the rest and I can't help feeling Burke uses it as a short cut explanation for his characters' motivations. But I'll still be back for more.