In a mystery filled with local color and the unique ambiance of New Orleans culture, author Kenneth Abel injects his plot with a powerful shot of reality: the nightmare of Hurricane Katrina. While trying to protect a state’s witness in an embezzlement case, New Orleans prosecutor Danny Chaisson comes face to face with the corruption and graft that has long defined business in the fabled city.
Snared by the FBI when his son gets in trouble with the law, Louis Sams has no choice but to cooperate with law enforcement, understanding full well the state’s inability to protect him. And it isn’t minor corruption Sams is exposing. As an engineer, he is privy to the lucrative contracts and critical shortfalls in the cement industry, the very fabric of the levees built to protect New Orleans from flooding should a Level 5 hurricane ever strike.
Wheeling and dealing is endemic to New Orleans - backroom deals, the rich feeding off the poor, the usual behavior that shields business and the powerful from exposure. Then along comes Katrina, the city awash with destruction. Sams has disappeared, Chaisson is stranded in a flooded building, and one of the main players is felled by a heart attack, his two thugs intent on finishing their job lest they bear the consequences of Jimmy Mancuso’s wrath. By the climactic resolution, the ATF has joined forces with other agencies and Danny is trapped with Sams and Mancuso’s goons, the rising water only adding to the threat.
Corruption and its consequences are the stars of this novel, two aspects of New Orleans exposed, the rich and powerful and the invisible poor suddenly cast into the spotlight by disaster. With crisp dialog and interesting characters, the author reveals the real city, the one peopled by blue-collar workers and the indigent, the result of years of poverty and disinterest, everyone left behind because they have not the means to flee disaster.
Within a few chapters, it all comes back, the rising water, the failure of the levees, the people stranded on rooftops waiting for rescue, the shocking absence of a government presence. Just one of the small dramas played out in those dark days, Danny’s attempt to rescue his client ends in a confluence of agencies and violence, yet another chapter in the history of a storied city.
Despite its flaws, Down in the Flood is an engaging read as it takes readers into a land that is mystical and wild.