Still the Rain Kept Pourin’ *

hurricanesHave you ever experienced a hurricane (they’re also called typhoons and cyclones, depending on where you live)? I have, and trust me, they can be frightening. On the one hand, people do now get advance warning about hurricanes, so that there’s a little time to evacuate if that’s necessary, or to lay in supplies, fasten the hurricane shutters and wait the storm out.

But the fact is, no matter how prepared one is, a hurricane is a furious storm. That’s even more the case if people don’t have the means or the infrastructure to withstand that kind of weather. As dangerous as hurricanes can be, they can make for a very effective context for a crime novel. There’s the element of danger, and there’s the suspense. All sorts of things can happen in a hurricane, too. So it’s no wonder that we see them in the genre.

Before he began his Travis McGee series, John D. MacDonald wrote several standalone novels that most people consider hardboiled. One of them was Murder in the Wind. In that novel, Hurricane Hilda forms, and slowly moves from the Caribbean towards Florida. As it does, many people try to leave the area and outrun the storm. The plot of this novel features six carloads of people who are driving north of Tampa when the bridge over the Waccasassa River goes out. Unable to turn back, they take shelter in an abandoned house to wait out the storm. As you can imagine, when a group of different sorts of characters is thrown together, anything can happen. And as MacDonald shows us, the storm itself adds to the conflict. I know, I know, fans of Condominium.

James Lee Burke’s The Tin Roof Blowdown takes place in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Many people have been left stranded by the high water, and Father Jude Le Blanc sets off in a boat to try to save some of his parishioners. He goes missing (and has presumably been shot), and the boat he was using ends up in the hands of looters, police detective Dave Robicheaux makes a connection between them and Le Blanc’s disappearance. Since they two were old friends, Robicheaux feels an especially strong need to find out what happened to the priest. Among other things, this novel shows the devastation that was left behind after Katrina, especially in poor and remote areas.

In Fly on the Wall, Mike Hirsh introduces volunteer Sheriff’s Deputy Paul ‘Fly’ Moscone. He’s retired from his job selling mainframe computers, and moved to Punta Gorda, Florida. Now, he works a few days a week as ‘an extra body on the streets.’  When Hurricane Charley slams through the area, there’s a lot of damage and chaos. And in its aftermath, there’s a dead body: wealthy John Catlett. His body is found in his upmarket apartment, and at first, it’s not clear that it’s a murder. But Moscone isn’t completely convinced, and he and his buddy Jinx, a recovering reporter, look into the matter. One of the other plot points in the novel is that someone has apparently been targeting the insurance claim adjusters who always move in on a hurricane-hit area. It’s an interesting look at that aspect of making it through this sort of weather.

Chris Grabenstein’s Free Fall doesn’t, admittedly, take place during a hurricane. But the fictional town of Sea Haven, New Jersey is one of many, many towns that were severely impacted by Superstorm Sandy. So, at the beginning of the novel, police detective Danny Boyle and John Ceepak, his former boss, now Chief of Detectives, are faced with budget cuts and a limited police force. All of this has come from trying to repair the damage and open the town for the all-important summer tourist season. One day, Boyle and his new partner are on patrol when they get a call about an alleged assault. The supposed assailant is Christine Lemonopolous, a friend of Boyle’s. She claims to be innocent, and Ceepak and Boyle believe her. Then, one of Christine’s home health care patients dies. Now the two detectives have to face the possibility that they’ve let a killer loose. This novel mentions, among other things, what it takes to get a place working again after a major storm.

There’s also David Holmberg’s The Hurricane Murders, which takes place in 1998. In that novel, Hurricane Angela strikes the West Palm Beach/Palm Beach, Florida area. Journalist Jake Arnett has been ‘sentenced to paradise,’ and now lives in West Palm Beach. In the aftermath of the hurricane, Arnett is assigned to the story when the bodies of Diane and Carolyn Madigan are found in their apartment. Both have been shot, and there are no signs of forced entry. So the police and Arnett start by looking among the people the victims knew. Arnett slowly builds a portrait of the women, the people they’d met, and the places they’d been. And in the end, he finds out who the killer is.

Jane Harrod’s Deadly Deceit finds British Diplomat Jess Turner on temporary assignment at the Governor’s Office of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) in the Caribbean. She arrives to the terrible news that the Governor’s been in an awful hit-and-run accident, and been rushed away for emergency surgery. It’s not long, though, before Jess finds that this was no accident. In the meantime, Australian DI Tom Sangster is in Miami for talks on global solutions to criminal gangs who engage in smuggling migrants. Jess is a friend of his, so when he learns she’s in the Caribbean, he visits her to find out how the British government manages the problem in the islands, especially immigration from nearby Haiti. While he’s visiting her, there’s a brutal murder.  And an approaching hurricane means he and Jess are not going to have much time to look into the secrets the island is hiding. The storm certainly adds a layer of urgency to the story.

Real-life hurricanes can do an immense amount of damage. And as you know, Hurricane Matthew has shown us all very recently just how awful a hurricane can be. It’s not just a matter of providing physical shelter for people. It’s water, tents, medicine, food that’s not contaminated, functioning hospitals and more.

You can do something to help those who’ve been so badly affected by the hurricane. This is important in all the areas impacted, but perhaps especially in Haiti, where there’s little infrastructure and less money. How can you help? Check out the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund. G’wan, click it. I have it on trustworthy authority that this is a reliable way to do your part for those in so much need.

You can also donate to the Red Cross, which is helping those who’ve lost so much in Haiti, and in the US. Don’t live in the US? No problem. There’s a Red Cross in your country. Perhaps you can’t hop on a plane and go rebuild. But you can help.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Creedance Clearwater Revival’s Who’ll Stop the Rain?


Filed under Chris Grabenstein, David Holmberg, James Lee Burke, Jane Harrod, John D. MacDonald, Mike Hirsh

20 responses to “Still the Rain Kept Pourin’ *

  1. How do you do it? Really! Your encyclopedic knowledge of crime fiction boggles my mind! I always learn something new. Thanks!

    As for storms, I lived through Ivan (which passed directly over my home at 2 a.m.), and I hope never to experience another direct hit. And you’ve opened up an interesting line of inquiry: Think about other weather events as “characters” in crime fiction; the possibilities are endless.

    • Oh, they are endless, aren’t they, Tim? And when you have severe fictional weather, you’re right; it can take on a personality – a character if you will – all its own. I think that sort of weather also adds real suspense to a story, and can be a catalyst for a lot.

      As for Ivan? I didn’t know you’d been right there. It must have been scary, and I don’t blame you for thinking once is more than enough.

  2. Being raised and living most of my adult life in Panama City on the Florida panhandle coast, I’m all too familiar with hurricanes. What continues to baffle me is how people living in storm prone areas are often totally unprepared for the storms. I’ve seen numerous TV news reports on days following a storm’s passing, of people standing in L-O-N-G lines waiting to receive handouts of water and food. Anytime a storm approached, we would immediately begin filling milk jugs (dozens of them), and even a cleaned bathtub with water. (Yes, you can boil it and it’s fine.) We always had stores of canned food for a couple of weeks, first aid supplies, a Coleman stove, lanterns, flashlights and plenty of backup batteries for all. There was simply no excuse for not being prepared.
    I suppose in these times of “nanny government” hordes of people expect the government to take care of and provide for them. Whatever happened to common sense?
    Okay, rant over. On a positive note, I have a copy of MacDonald’s Murder in the Wind on my stacks waiting to be read. 🙂

    • Forgot to mention that in my upcoming Mac McClellan Mystery, Deadly Spirits (Jan. ’17), a hurricane plays a prominent role in the storyline. (Pardon the plug!) 🙂

    • I hope you’ll enjoy Murder in the Wind, Michael. And I agree that, if you live in a hurricane-prone area, it’s a good idea to take precautions during hurricane season, especially if the conditions develop for one.

  3. Col

    I’m quite fortunate that where I am we don’t seem to suffer extremes of weather. No colossal storms or worse. I’ve read the Burke book a year or two ago and a couple of post-Katrina novels also. I like the sound of the John D. book, but probably shouldn’t …. (you nearly got me again!)

    • You are, indeed, fortunate, Col. I haven’t had that much luck (hurricanes, then tornadoes, and now wildfires *sigh*). As to the books, I think you would like the MacDonald (Just sayin’… 😉 )

  4. We don’t really get hurricanes or any other particularly extreme weather events except the occasional flooding, but I did get to see the very tail-end of a hurricane once when I was in Cornwall. Considering it had more or less blown itself out by that stage, the power of it was still frightening and it gave me a small indication of what it must be like to have to face one at its full strength. And even worse for places without the wealth and resources we in the pampered rich countries take for granted. Haiti seems to just be reeling from one disaster to another over the last few years.

    • Oh, it really does, FictionFan! And Haiti has so few resources to withstand those sorts of blows.

      You’re right, too, that hurricanes are fierce. I’m grateful to say I’ve never had to be evacuated. But even so, the ones I’ve been through have been scary. You’re fortunate that where you live, you have an easier time of it all.

  5. Officially we don’t get hurricanes or cyclones where I live but last week we got pretty darned close. Winds were strong enough to blow over a string of interstate power line connectors so our entire state was without power for more than 12 hours and there was much flooding and damage. I must admit that I did think it was the perfect setting for a crime story – the city in blackness, torrential rain and fierce winds keeping every sane person inside, no police on hand (no phones and all the police were being used for traffic management and other emergency tasks). I wonder if I’ll see the setting crop up in some local author’s tale sometime in the future

    • It does sound like a terrible storm, Bernadette. That’s about as close as you can get to a hurricane without officially being one, I think. I’m glad you’re all right, and I hope no-one was badly hurt. Storms like that really do bring an area to a halt. As you say, they can be effective contexts for a novel if you think about it. So many possibilities there… Nice to know I’m not the only one who thinks that way.

  6. kathyd

    Thank you for posting the organization taking donations for Haiti relief, one which Haitians in the States recommend as a good, reliable one. A friend who reads Haitian newspapers said that 1,000 people have died, 200,000 homes damages and 350,000 people need assistance.
    Many people didn’t know the hurricane was coming as they have no forms of communication. Some areas in the South are still unreachable.
    And, as many of you know, cholera has reappeared and 13 people have died of the disease already.
    Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and many people have still not recovered from the treacherous 2010 earthquake.
    It breaks my heart to read about what is happening there.
    I don’t think I’ve read crime fiction about hurricanes, but certainly see this weather event happening more and more here and worldwide.

    • You’re right, Kathy. Haiti has suffered terribly as a result of the hurricane, and we don’t even know the full extent of the damage yet. It’s not just a matter of the immediate damage, either. it’s cholera and other diseases as well. I’m hoping relief will get there soon.

  7. Hurricanes and their aftermath can destroy so many lives in such a short period of time. They do, however, make for intriguing elements in a murder mystery story. I can’t think of a hurricane-related book right off but I remember Tamara Hart Heiner wrote a true story about seven women and their courage in the face of the tornado that ripped through Joplin, Missouri, in 2011. It’s called TORNADO WARNING. Weather can provide an interesting backdrop for murder (if only it were all just in books). Great post, Margot!

    • Oh, I remember the Joplin tornado, Mason. Thanks for mentioning that book. And you’re right; hurricanes can be terribly destructive, and the damage can be very long-lasting. But they can make for a really effective backdrop for a novel, I think. Thanks for the kind words.

  8. kathyd

    This post brings to mind the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Thousands dislocated, homes destroyed, pets long lost, so much damage. It changed so many lives; many people haven’t recovered.
    In wonder if anyone has written crime fiction set during or post-Katrina.

    • It was a fierce storm, Kathy, that wreaked havoc for millions. And there are novels that have been written about it. James Lee Burke’s The Tin Roof Blowdown is one, and I’m sure there are others.

  9. Margot, we your hurricanes are our cyclones, and we have some nasty ones every few years. Thankfully, we haven’t had one in Mumbai for nearly two decades though the rest of the country hasn’t been as lucky. I have read about storms in thrillers and espionage fiction. I read about the unfortunate death and destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew in Haiti and was glad it spared the US southeast coast.

    • Hurricane Matthew was a terrible storm, Prashant, and it wreaked havoc on Haiti, that’s for sure. I’ve read about some of the horrible storms that have hit different parts of India, too. So much damage and it’s so hard on the people, too. Those storms can really be awful.

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