The Hurricane Lover by Joni Rodgers

hurricaneAnyone like disaster movies?  Did you watch the Poseidon Adventure, Towering Inferno, Volcano, Deep Impact? I have to admit that I did and – even more shocking! – have even watched repeats, wrapped up in a blanket and dosed with flu remedies.  Written by Joni Rodgers, an experienced novelist and ghost writer, the Hurricane Lover would make an excellent script for another and I’d probably watch that too, with or without the honey and lemon.  It’s based on the phenomenon of the two mega-hurricanes Katrina and Rita which piled into the Gulf coast within a few weeks of each other, and it gives graphic descriptions of what it was like to live through them. Very topical in the wake of the recent New York disaster.  This isn’t my normal kind of reading, but I’m a sucker for documentaries about storm-chasers and was eager for a bit of light reading after ploughing through piles of lit-crit for research purposes. So, I put myself in James Bond mode, disengaged the brain and the reality check and prepared to be entertained, scared witless, and finally have the universe returned to normality – a bit like a ride on the Tower of Terror roller coaster in Australia, but at £1.94 it’s a lot cheaper.

There are two feisty central characters.  Shay, a ‘smile’ girl on daytime TV, longs to do some serious journalism.  Her ex-lover Corbin is an expert on hurricanes and earns his living predicting them and advising companies and governments how to minimise the damage.   Hurricane Katrina brings them together again after a long period of bitterness and acrimony.  Shay has uncovered a website that lures men into bizarre sexual encounters that result in identity theft, financial ruin and murder.  She believes that Corbin’s much loved brother, Guy, whose wife is 8 months pregnant, is going to be the next victim.  The perpetrator, known only as Queen Mab, is known to operate under the cover provided by hurricane chaos and Shay believes that Katrina is going to be the backdrop for her next strike.

Corbin, having predicted the horror that Katrina is likely to bring, leaves the safe haven he’s created for himself, Guy and his wife, to follow Shay out into the storm in pursuit of Queen Mab.  Conditions worsen, Shay almost drowns in rat-infested water, is separated from Corbin by the storm, but survives despite everything.  And even though she has initially failed to pin down the murderess, she has a story about the victims of the hurricane that networks are going to compete for.  Guy is safe, but the victim proves to be another member of their close family.  Corbin wants revenge.  He also realises that he is still in love with Shay.  Hurricane Rita builds out in the Atlantic and it becomes clear the Queen Mab now has someone else on her hit list.  As Corbin and Shay close in on her, their own lives are increasingly at risk.

There are some chillingly authentic descriptions of Shay’s interviews with people who refuse to leave their properties and she has to leave them to face what she knows is certain death as the water level rises.  At one point she bumps into an obstacle in the water and realises that it is the body of a young woman.  Later she is challenged by a terrified policeman holding a rifle and threatening to shoot her because he believes she’s a looter. The hard choices that survivors had to make are illustrated in one scene where Shay has to drown a caged dog to save it from an even slower and more painful death.  Based on personal accounts of what actually happened in New Orleans on the night the hurricane made landfall, this isn’t a novel for the faint-hearted.  It’s the inclusion of these elements of reality that lift the novel into a different league.

The chapters are also interspersed with emails (in the public domain)  from the disaster management team at FEMA and they make sickening reading.  If Nero fiddled while Rome burned, then the FEMA management’s inaction should also be immortalised with a similar saying.

The novel contains all the elements of the disaster movie genre – the fast pace, the superhuman escapes from near death experience, the ability to have sex anywhere, at any time despite having broken several ribs, been stabbed, kicked in the nether regions and recently knocked unconscious!  You have to suspend disbelief, but it all adds to the fun.

This novel is well outside my usual comfort zone in terms of genre.  I love thrillers, but rarely read this kind of hybrid, though I have to say that it carried me along like a tidal surge.  The only thing I struggled with was the American vernacular.  English English and US English seem to be diverging at the speed of light. Shamefully, I didn’t know what a ‘goat screw’ was – I obviously don’t get out enough!  The novel is set in the deep south of New Orleans where residents still speak a version of French.  The author has included just enough simple French phrases to give a taste of the New Orleans dialect and that didn’t give me any trouble.  It was the fast-paced vernacular that puzzled, as it sometimes does these days in US movies and TV series. I got the gist however, and it didn’t deter me.  It was quite late when I finally put out the light.  And I won’t be moving to the Gulf coast of the US any time soon!

Reviewed by Kathleen Jones

Available in Kindle format  

Find out more about Joni Rodgers