Hurricane Fever is the second of Tobias Buckell’s near-future thrillers, set in a world where global warming has had its inevitable effects and competition for natural resources is even more cut-throat than it is today. It’s a loose sequel to Arctic Rising, in that one of Arctic Rising’s secondary characters, Caribbean intelligence operative Prudence (“Roo”) Jones, takes centre stage. But Hurricane Fever stands alone: it’s not a series novel. Frankly, that’s always something of a relief.
Roo’s been out of the espionage game for a while. Now he tools around the Caribbean on his catamaran, dodging hurricanes and taking care of his nephew, the orphaned adolescent Delroy. He stays under the radar and out of trouble—at least, until he receives a message from an old friend and former colleague, Zee. But this isn’t your average message: no, this is a voicemail asking Roo to investigate Zee’s death. From Zee, Roo inherits some information, some puzzles, and a whole lot of peril. Peril that only gets worse once a woman accosts him, demanding answers—a woman who claims to be Zee’s sister.
(Fair warning: there are some spoilers after this point…)
Roo’s fairly certain she isn’t Zee’s sister: she’s too light-skinned, and Zee never mentioned a sister, not once. Kit is competent and willing to get her hands dirty, and Roo rapidly comes to suspect she’s working for an intelligence agency herself.
The peril goes from bad to worse. Delroy dies. Roo finds himself on the suicidal end of vengeful, a vengefulness only gradually tempered by the realisation that it’s up to him—and to Kit, if he can trust her far enough—to prevent incredible loss of life. Biological weapons combine with space exploitation and neo-Nazis for an explosive conclusion.
Apart from Greg Rucka’s novels, I don’t make a habit of reading thrillers. But there are structural features common to most of them: short chapters, building to points of narrative crescendo; a voice that’s a little more distanced than in many other genres. Buckell’s got the structural quirks of a thriller down cold: this is a perfect page-turner. Where he really excels, though, is in uniting the pace and structure of a thriller with the worldbuilding vision of science fiction. The effects of global warming—a Miami that’s become a Floridian Venice; the Caribbean’s massive, frequent hurricanes (super-storms, in effect); islands built on artificial reefs to preserve territorial claims to natural resources; a Caribbean made stronger on the international scene by a loose federation of member-nations—aren’t the novel’s point, but they’re nonetheless an essential part of the story: they’re what makes it work. Buckell’s world is one in which everything fits together, and nothing is extraneous.
So too, with his characters. Buckell’s Caribbean is populated with a variety of believable people. The characters who stand out most, naturally, are those with whom we spend the most time: Roo himself, and Kit. Roo feels weatherbeaten, a man ready to retire who’s nonetheless willing to get stuck in because people killed his nephew and that’s not on. Kit is rather more mysterious: the narrative presents her to us as a puzzle, a woman who claims to be a dead man’s sister and work in insurance, but even when we’re not sure of her motivations, she acts in compelling ways—ways that make sense. Eventually, we learn that there’s a whole tangle of family and revenge and duty driving her, and a very interesting tangle it is.
The style of Buckell’s narrative reminds me a bit of a James Bond film (one of the good ones) albeit less ridiculous: there are violent encounters in hotel rooms and chases by land and sea—including a memorable chase sequence and a final showdown outside in the middle of a hurricane. How the major villain intends to dispose of Roo during the novel’s climactic scenes does cross the line into being actively ridiculous, for me, but I was having so much fun at that point—and was so eager to see what happened next—that I really can’t say I minded very much.
Hurricane Fever is a stronger, tighter novel than Arctic Rising. I’ll admit I personally like it rather less as a book than its predecessor—but this is mere prejudice on my part, since I wanted more of Anika Duncan. (Much more.) Roo’s appeal is rather different, yet by the halfway mark he’d entirely won me over. This is a tense and gripping ride, with a great deal to recommend it. An excellent thriller. Go read it.