Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hurricane Fever by Tobias S. Buckell

Not the US cover, but I prefer this one.
Let's say there's something wrong with the planet's climate and hurricane season produces a steady flow of class 5 hurricanes. And suppose the Caribbean found itself the focus of international attention, the kind that pushes the island nations together to form their own unified political coalition, down to its own world-class spies. While we're at it, let's have the island still welcome tourists, but now we're talking major industrial players in high rises throwing hurricane parties.

And in the middle of all this someone has finally created the ultimate chemical weapon, one with a really nasty bigoted edge to it, that's about to be launched via the winds of the coming storm. There's only one lone, retired local ex-spy who has figured it all out... but can he stop it from happening?

Hurricane Fever is, for me, the perfect spy-thriller-action-adventure-beach-read. It's a summer movie in a book, well-written, and at just under 275 pages proof that the compelling story full of character and suspense can be achieved without the unnecessary bloat of, say, a Clancy doorstop.

Prudence Jones, or Roo as he's known, has retired from his days as a spy for the CIA -- the Caribbean Intelligence Agency -- and has settled into a life on his catamaran helping raise his wayward teenage nephew. A message from a now-dead former colleague, and the arrival of a woman claiming to be the dead man's sister, very quickly drags Roo reluctantly back into service. There is someone very powerful at the end of the trail and the weapon they are planning to unleash is both sinister and ugly.

Built more on the model of a hardboiled detective story than an espionage thriller, with a ticking time bomb of suspense, the story never suffers from a glut of backstory or over-talkative characters. Based entirely in the Caribbean, a locale Buckell knows well, the world built seems at once both familiar and eerily too-close-for-comfort near-future.  

This is my first exposure to Buckell. He has a previous novel from which the main character here played a bit part, but I haven't had a chance to hunt it down. Add to the surprise of stumbling onto a new (to me) author is the fact that this is a Tor title. Speculative fiction, to be sure, but just barely. The most out-there element to the story concerns the re-purposing of massive 100 caliber cannon originally designed to launch small (spy?) satellites into space. This sounds like something straight out of Jules Verne except it happens to be true! On Tor/Forge's blog Buckell gives a brief background on the cannon and how it fits into Hurricane Fever and there's a great twist to that history that involves Saddam Hussein.

Be warned: it's really difficult to stop reading once it gets going.

Hurricane Fever
by Tobias S. Buckell
Tor 2014

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