Have 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?