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James Lee Burke's Fictional Take on Katrina

<em>The Tin Roof Blowdown</em> is a new installment in Burke's Dave Robicheaux series.
<em>The Tin Roof Blowdown</em> is a new installment in Burke's Dave Robicheaux series.

Author James Lee Burke has lived around the Gulf Coast for most of his 70 years, and has written about it for the last half-century.

"For a writer, South Louisiana is a gift from God, because there's no other place quite like it," he says.

The first wave of post-Hurricane Katrina fiction is now hitting bookstores, and Burke rides it with two new books: The Tin Roof Blowdown, the latest novel in his Dave Robicheaux series, and the story collection Jesus Out to Sea.

Burke's characters are mostly people who had a fair amount of trouble before Katrina hit: hardscrabble crooks, cons, grifters and gamblers. He sees his fictional take on post-Katrina life in southern Louisiana as fundamentally realistic: He says that besides the characters, there's nothing made-up in either of his new books.

The story "Jesus Out to Sea" was first published in the March issue of Esquire, making it one of the earliest pieces of post-Katrina fiction. James Lee Burke ended his previous Dave Robicheaux novel with Katrina's arrival, promising his readers he'd tackle the storm head on in the next one. He delivered with The Tin Roof Blowdown.

In Burke's fiction, the devastated New Orleans becomes a kind of archetypal backdrop against which he can explore his most persistent theme: the pitting of the powerless against the powerful.

"I'm 70, and I've never changed," Burke says. "I do not trust people who seek authority and control over other people. I try to get as much [distance] between me and them as possible."

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