Friday, September 11, 2009

Down in the Flood by Kenneth Abel

When I reviewed Mary Anna Evans' Floodgates, I had just read Kenneth Abel's Down in the Flood. It was interesting to see the difference in the treatment of Hurricane Katrina. Here's my review of Down in the Flood, as it appeared in Mystery News. It's reprinted here, with permission.

Down in the Flood
by Kenneth Abel
St. Martin’s Minotaur
ISBN 978-0-312-37719-9
Crime Fiction

On the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Kenneth Abel brings readers a novel that is difficult to classify. It’s the third in the Danny Chaisson series, and it would definitely be easier to read this book after reading the earlier two. Technically, the book could be classified as amateur detective since Danny is a lawyer, but he, and this book, are so much more that that. This is a dark, gritty novel about an ethical man trying to do the right thing, against enormous opposition.

Danny Chaisson was once a New Orleans prosecutor. After taking down some powerful figures for the FBI, he’s an independent lawyer with a small practice. When the U.S. Attorney’s office investigates IndusCrete, a company that may have sold bad concrete, an engineer named Louis Sams asks for help. He’s been pressured by the FBI to testify against the company’s owner, Gerald Vickers. In return, they’ll help Sams’ son get out of legal trouble. Danny and Sams have two problems. Vickers’ business partner, Jimmy Mancuso, is a powerful mobster. And Louis Sams is an honest man. Instead of putting himself under FBI protection, Sams insists on putting in one more day at work, even though two ex-cops, employed by Mancuso, have shown up looking for a snitch.

When Sams disappears, it’s too late for the FBI to help him out. It’s August 27, 2005, and Hurricane Katrina is bearing down on the city. Danny’s FBI contact tells him Sams disappeared, but the FBI is pulling out. Danny’s wife, an ATF agent, is required to stay in town, but Danny’s supposed to follow his mother-in-law and daughter out of town. Despite his family, and, despite the hurricane, Danny is compelled to do what he can to find Sams, a man who might be in danger.

Abel’s novel is a troubling book. It vividly describes the conditions for those people left behind, as Danny rides out the storm in a warehouse owned by a friend, Jabril, who opened it up to protect his community. Jabril and Danny share the gallows humor necessary to survive under terrible conditions. But, they are both determined to save the people they can. Danny is determined to find Louise Sams. He knew if he didn’t, Sams would be just one more dead man, in a city full of the dead, “A whole city of victims.” But, Danny was convinced, “Every man matters, if only for a moment.”

Through hurricane, flooding, and looting, Danny continues to look for Sams. He and Jabril agreed, “You do what you can, even if it isn’t enough.” There is corruption, criminals, and victims in this book, but it’s not a typical crime novel. Kenneth Abel’s story points out the corruption and criminal behavior in New Orleans, both before and after the storm. He takes readers back into those terrible days in August, back into the lives of the people left behind, “silent people contemplating the end of the only world they’d ever known.” Abel tells readers about crime on a grand scale.

And, he gives us Danny Chaisson, the kind of guy who stays with a mobster in the hospital when he realizes there was nobody else there for the man. There’s no one I’d rather have on my side than Danny, an ethical, moral man, not a superhero, but a dedicated, loyal man who tries to do the right thing.

There’s a little too much that happens by accident at the end of the book. And, it would have been easier to follow at times, if I had read the earlier books. But Abel’s description of the hurricane, and the behavior of one ethical man, makes up for the minor flaws in the book.

Rating: 4.5

Reprinted, with permission, from Mystery News, Volume 27, Issue 4, August/September 2009.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

With today's news stories marking 9-11, I already had tragedy on the brain before reading your review of "Down in the Flood." It sounds like an interesting story.

I wonder if this author started writing the book shortly after the flood, or more recently. I've seen lots of 9-11 books lately, and several Katrina-related books and wonder when authors feel enough time has passed to write about a tragic subject.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Lesa said...

That's an interesting thought, Elizabeth. When has enough time passed? This was the second Katrina book I read, and I have Tom Piazza's by my chair to finish by the end of the month. It was five years in August since Katrina, and that book will be my third Katrina one. And, each took a different angle. Evans focused on the levees. Abel focused on people caught up in it. Piazza has a narrow focus on what happened to two families. It's interesting how they each address the subject.

Corey Wilde said...

I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky. aka Kenneth Abel about a year ago. He said that his book was written just after Katrina but for several reasons (including the timing of the publication of James Lee Burke's 'Tin-Roof Blowdown,' as well as a new publisher for Abel) publication of 'Flood' had been long delayed.

Lesa said...


Thank you for the update! I appreciate knowing the background for the book. Thanks!