Bleak, dark, suffused with simmering and often righteous anger: never a comfortable read.
James Lee Burke is far from my usual reading fare, out of self-preservation really. A too deep and often immersion in this world of constant perfidy and violence, where the oppressed are for the most part so savagely handled that becoming the oppressor seems the only way out, leaves this reader too closely believing that the brutality of our species is all there is, and that the survival of kindness and compassion is an impossibility.
Yet, from rare time to time I do foray into Burke’s books, lured by the power of his writing, and the complex multifaceted layers of his characters.
Dave Robicheaux, Lee Burke’s central and continuing character across a series of Louisiana set books, presently works as a sheriff’s deputy. He is a Vietnam vet, whose experiences in that war and his own early family history have taken him into some very dark places. He is an alcoholic in recovery. His best friend, a former cop, now working for a bail bondsman, is a still-suffering alcoholic, Clete Purcell.
There are deep and sometimes potentially dangerous bonds of friendship between the two, as their shared history of violence and addiction simmers below the surface for both, erupting most often for Purcell, whilst consciously struggled with through his recovery programme, for Robicheaux, who also is supported by a strong relationship with his wife and adopted daughter. Purcell particularly strays often outside the strict letter of the law, yet there is always some basic honour in him.
The Tin Roof Blowdown has a complicated plot involving a psychopath and sexual predator, a horrific gang rape, and a burglary from someone with Mob connections. This is all played out in New Orleans whilst Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastate the area, and much of the unleashed violence and lawbreaking happens against a backdrop of aid coming too little, too late, and the poor and powerless are left defenceless.
Much of the anger expressed in the book is righteous, with Robicheaux expressing his understanding that systems of governance which favour the haves, and deprive the have-nots, sow the seeds of criminality, that deprivation and lack of justice and opportunity, dysfunction in society, covert and overt racism, will only breed more of the same.
This is a strongly written, apocalyptic book and does not hold out much hope, other than the small, local bonds of kindness and understanding individuals may be lucky to find with each other, whilst outside, in the world at large, hell seems to be up and running.