Unleash with Category 5 fury a modern master of mood and metaphor. Turn him loose on a city in turmoil. Let him speak with the righteous indignation of Dave Robicheaux, the recovering alcoholic, Cajun detective who struggles for justice whether within the system or outside it. Then settle in for a heck of a read: James Lee Burke's The Tin Roof Blowdown.

In the whirling winds of Hurricane Katrina's landfall, a junkie priest takes a bus into the 9th Ward. A white father and daughter struggle to cope after her gang rape. Across the street, a crime boss a florist by day has fled to higher ground. And four young black men on the prowl in a stolen boat hit the jackpot in the florist's empty house. As they flee, gunfire leaves two dead, one paralyzed and the fourth Bertrand Melancon terrified and on the run. New Iberia Sheriff's deputy Robicheaux is lent to New Orleans to help out, where he investigates the shooting and the theft. As Dave gets closer to learning what Melancon found in the florist's home, and to what happened in the flooded streets, he finds himself and his family the target of forces as destructive and unforgiving as the wind and water.

The Tin Roof Blowdown is Burke's 16th Dave Robicheaux novel. Twice an Edgar Award winner, once a Pulitzer Prize nominee, Burke is justifiably admired for his rich prose and for the character of Robicheaux, a complex, compassionate man always striving to understand human motivation. Everything readers love in Burke's novels is intensified by the storm, and by Robicheaux's barely controlled rage at the government's inability to take care of those most in need in a vibrant old city. Deft shifts of points of view allow for a more fully fleshed story than Robicheaux alone could tell.

This is a powerful portrayal of the human cost of a storm that will long reverberate, and that blew the roof off the illusion of equality in America. Like Robicheaux, readers will be pondering the true nature of good and evil long after the last page.

Leslie Budewitz writes from northwest Montana.

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