Tourist Season (novel)
|Cover artist||George Corsillo|
|Publisher||G. P. Putnam's Sons|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|LC Class||PS3558.I217 T68 1986|
|Followed by||Double Whammy|
Las Noches de Diciembre (Spanish, "The Nights of December") is a small terrorist cell led by renegade newspaper columnist Skip Wiley, a brilliant-but-insane Uncle Duke-like character, as El Fuego. Wiley believes that the only way to save Florida's natural beauty from destruction is to violently dissuade tourists from visiting and/or settling in the state. Recruiting three comrades with similar axes to grind against the Florida establishment, they begin a spree of flashy kidnappings, murders, and bombings to frighten off new arrivals into the Sunshine State.
Fittingly, their first victim is B.D. "Sparky" Harper, the head of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. Harper's body is found stuffed into an oversized suitcase, dressed in a garish tourist outfit and smeared with suntan oil, and with his legs amputated. Next, Wiley's gang starts kidnapping and murdering random tourists and Florida residents, many of whom are fed to a giant North American Crocodile (nicknamed "Pavlov").
Brian Keyes, a private investigator and former news reporter for the Miami Sun, is hired by the Public Defender's office to help defend the police's prime suspect in Sparky Harper's murder, a petty burglar named Ernesto Cabal, who was caught driving Harper's stolen car. Brian is inclined to believe that Harper's murder is much too bizarre to be Ernesto's work, but the Miami police, in their eagerness to close the case, dismiss him. Ernesto commits suicide when his own lawyer states that the case is a lost cause.
Brian is then hired by Nell Bellamy (the wife of the first tourist victim) to find her missing husband, and by his old mentor, Sun editor Cab Mulcahy, to locate Wiley, who has disappeared.
After an uncomfortable encounter with Wiley's girlfriend, Jenna (Brian's ex-girlfriend), Keyes tracks Wiley to a cabin in the Everglades, where he is abducted by Las Noches. Wiley reveals himself as the group's leader, and tells Brian that his job is to return to Miami (alive), and spread the word of Las Noches demands. But Wiley also says that he is not ready to have his own role exposed yet, and warns Brian that if he does so, then the violence will escalate, immediately and horribly. To drive home the fact that Las Noches is serious, Wiley has Keyes witness as their latest victim, retiree Ida Kimmelman, is fed to Pavlov. Keyes tries to stop the murder, and is stabbed in the back by one of the gang, a Cuban named Jesús Bernal. Keyes is returned to the city and treated in the hospital.
Since it is the start of the tourist season, the police's initial reaction to Keyes's warnings is to cover up, dismissing the Las Noches communiques as a hoax. Ricky Bloodworth uncovers the letters and writes an article on the letters, but misspells the name of the group, as "Las Nachos". The terrorists retaliate by triggering several bombs in public places, forcing the authorities to take them seriously. Keyes's old friend, Detective Al Garcia is appointed head of a task force to catch the terrorists.
Based on Wiley's hints, Keyes, Mulcahy, and Garcia deduce that the terrorists plan to kidnap Miami's much-touted Orange Bowl Queen, in the most spectacularly public fashion possible. Since the civic leaders flatly refuse to cancel the Orange Bowl Parade, or to allow police guards to be seen near the beauty queen, Garcia suggests hiring Keyes as her undercover bodyguard.
Keyes is pleasantly surprised when the recently crowned beauty queen, Kara Lynn Shivers (19), turns out to be an intelligent, self-possessed, and thoroughly sensible person. She actually hates the whole beauty queen "racket," and takes part only to indulge her father's fanatic dreams of making her a star. She and Keyes quickly find common ground and grow closer, eventually developing a relationship.
While escorting her home from a tennis game, Keyes catches Jesús Bernal loitering in the parking lot, doing a lackluster job of surveilling the Orange Bowl Queen. Bernal is not paying enough attention, and Keyes beats him soundly, armed with nothing but a tennis racket.
Furious, Wiley informs the gang that Bernal has thrown away their psychological advantage by revealing himself and their plans too soon. To regain it, Wiley announces that he's devised a new plan.
Bernal, simmering with humiliation and aching for reinstatement with the anti-Castro terrorist group he was expelled from, decides to proceed with his own agenda. Abandoning Las Noches, he sends a mail bomb to Al Garcia, whom he identifies as a "traitor" to the anti-Castro movement. Farcically, the bomb is instead opened by over-eager Sun reporter Ricky Bloodworth, illegally sifting Garcia's mail for clues about the terrorists. Because of Bernal's poor construction, the bomb does not kill Bloodworth, it only injures him. Garcia never learns that the bomb was addressed to him, and the bombing is attributed to Wiley's gang.
The next evening, Wiley unleashes his new plan: buzzing the deck of the pre-Orange Bowl Friendship Cruise out at sea in a helicopter, Wiley promises to give the tourists on board some "real Florida souvenirs," and drops hundreds of shopping bags from posh vendors onto the deck - which, when ripped open by the frenzied tourists, contain live snakes. Chaos envelops the deck of the cruise ship, and one foolish passenger yells "abandon ship!" causing all of them to dive off into the ocean. As the Coast Guard is rescuing them, the helicopter flies away, but unexpectedly crashes at sea before it reaches land. No bodies are recovered.
Believing that Las Noches are dead, the Miami civil leaders breathe a sigh of relief. Keyes and Garcia remain skeptical, however, and insist that their security precautions remain in place until after the Orange Bowl Parade.
In a last-ditch attempt at redemption, Jesús Bernal kidnaps Garcia at gunpoint and drives him out to Key Largo for a flashy execution. Garcia is wounded in the shoulder by Bernal's shotgun, but Keyes manages to track them down and kills Bernal with a pistol shot.
To Keyes's surprise, the Parade comes and goes without any sign of Wiley or his gang. The next day, Cab Mulcahy writes his own front-page account of the tourist murders, revealing his own knowledge of Wiley's role in the killings and apologizing to his readers for withholding it.
The evening after the Parade is the Orange Bowl game itself. In the stands, Keyes realizes, belatedly, that Kara Lynn is supposed to make a brief appearance during the game's halftime show. With all their security measures focused on the Parade, the game is a perfect opportunity for Las Noches, alive and well, to strike. In the chaos, Kara Lynn is kidnapped and carried out of the stadium on an airboat, though one of the gang, ex-football player "Viceroy" Wilson is shot to death by a Shriner friend of Theodore Bellamy, acting as Kara Lynn's unofficial escort.
With the police rushing around in confusion, Keyes goes directly to Jenna's house and examines Wiley's old press clippings. Quickly deducing where Wiley has gone, Keyes drags Jenna along with him.
Wiley has taken Kara Lynn to Osprey Island, a small nature preserve in the middle of Biscayne Bay. When Kara Lynn recovers from her drugged sleep, Wiley is taken aback, and sorrowful, that she is, contrary to his expectations, an intelligent and unspoiled young woman. Regretfully he reveals his final plan: the surface of the island has been mined with dynamite, to be exploded at dawn, to allow for the construction of a snazzy new condominium complex. Wiley plans to leave Kara Lynn there, with the island's other remaining wildlife, just to illustrate to the greedy developers of Florida the consequences of their rampant development - as he puts it, the island's native flora and fauna have zero value for such people, but they might stop and think if their dynamite blows up the only species on earth they actually care about: "a future customer."
Before Wiley can go, however, Keyes arrives and disables Wiley with a bullet to the leg. The fisherman who dropped Keyes off refused to wait around, so Keyes demands to know where Wiley anchored his boat. At first, Wiley refuses to tell, prepared to let the dynamite claim himself, Keyes, and Kara Lynn all at once. But he is horrified to learn that Keyes has brought Jenna along, and surrenders the boat's location. To Keyes's surprise, he refuses to go along with them, preferring to stay on the island.
As they speed away from the island, Keyes, Kara Lynn, and Jenna look back and see an amazing spectacle: Wiley is climbing a tree (bad leg and all), trying feverishly to scare a bald eagle nesting there into taking flight before the dynamite explodes. The novel ends just as the "all clear" signal for the detonation is sounded, with the three of them whispering the same prayer: "Please fly away."
The book is not only an example of the crime fiction genre, but a satire as well, of many subjects from tourism to sports to race relations to the newsroom. It also contains examples of the literary device of the red herring; for example, deep background is given to characters who appear briefly only to die off, which keeps the reader guessing as to who will make it to the end of the book.
Hiaasen is a newspaper columnist from the Miami Herald. In an interview, he said that he took much of his inspiration from his work on the Herald. Readers may believe that Skip Wiley is a slightly more crazed version of the author; both are newspaper columnists, and both are very passionate and entertaining writers. One theme that persists in the book is moral ambiguity; while Brian Keyes understands the value of Skip Wiley's ends, Keyes would have preferred a less violent means. Their conflict arises as a matter of where they place their allegiance: Brian Keyes to humankind, and Skip Wiley to the wild.
Hiaasen's novels typically deal with distinctly Floridian themes such as environmental destruction of unique ecosystems, the inability to sustain rapid growth, and crooked politicians, among others.
- Brian Keyes (32): a former reporter for the Sun, now a private detective.
- Cab Mulcahy: managing editor of the Sun, Keyes's friend and mentor.
- Ricky Bloodworth: wet-behind-the-ears reporter for the Sun. Energetic and ambitious, Bloodworth yearns for success in journalism, but lacks all the other qualities necessary for a good reporter, including sensitivity, tact, and basic writing skills.
- Al García: Detective Sergeant for the Metro-Dade Police Homicide unit.
Alberto "Al" Garcia is a recurring fictional character in several novels by Carl Hiaasen, beginning with Hiaasen's first, Tourist Season. To date, he has appeared in four of Hiaasen's novels, and often acts as an important ally to the novel's main protagonist.
Garcia emigrated from Cuba as a young boy; certain family members stayed behind, including a sister who married a Cuban Army officer. Having arrived in America with virtually nothing, he joined the Metro-Dade County police and eventually became a detective in the Homicide Division. His superiors look on him fondly as "an excellent detective with no ambition to be anything more."
In Tourist Season he investigates several suspicious deaths of tourists, but is initially censured when he suggests that an extremist group is targeting tourists. When the fact becomes impossible to ignore, he is put in charge of a special task force to catch the terrorists. One of the terrorists, Jesus Bernal, trying to raise his own prestige among anti-Castro Cubans in Florida, labels Garcia a "traitor" and kidnaps him at gunpoint. Garcia receives a non-fatal wound to his shoulder from Bernal's shotgun (that continues to bother him in subsequent novels) before Bernal is stopped. He spends the book's climax recovering in the hospital.
In Tourist Season he is married, with at least one adult daughter. At the time of Strip Tease, he has re-married, to a woman named Donna (whom he met while arresting her then-husband for a drug-related murder) and become stepfather to her two young children.
Books with Al Garcia
- Theodore Bellamy, shriner
- B.D. "Sparky" Harper, president of the Miami Chamber of Commerce
- Renee LeVoux, tourist from Montreal
- Ida Kimmelman, retiree
- Dr. Remond Courtney, shill psychiatrist
Las Noches de Diciembre
- Skip Wiley (White, 37): A popular columnist for the Sun, leader and founder of Las Noches. Wiley wants to save the Florida environment by scaring tourists out of Florida. Wiley reasons that the entire Florida economy is dependent on tourism and emigration from other parts of America, and that without it the whole state structure will collapse.
- Daniel "Viceroy" Wilson (African-American, 36): formerly a star fullback for the Miami Dolphins football team, Wilson was cut from the team after critically injuring both knees. After several years as a drug addict and a petty criminal, he has cleaned up, educated himself, and dreams of revenge on the white-dominated establishment of Florida.
- Jesús Bernal (Cuban, late 20's): formerly a member of an anti-Castro group (the "First Weekend in July Movement") in Florida seeking to drive Castro from power and let Cuban exiles return home. Jesús was expelled from the movement after one mistake too many. Overflowing with machismo, he thinks of himself as the most experienced and well-trained of Las Noches at committing terrorist acts, but in fact is completely inept at anything except writing snappy press releases (a number of farcical situations in the novel arise from his attempts to plant homemade bombs). His militant politics are also something of a pose, since he was born and raised in New Jersey, graduated from Dartmouth College, and has never been to Cuba in his life.
- Tommy Tigertail (Seminole, mid-20's): A member of the Seminole Nation, and the source of Las Noches funding. Tommy is an innovator, largely responsible for turning white people's fetish for bingo into a multi-million dollar business for his tribe, and is also deeply aggrieved by the white men's actions against his ancestors, and their destruction of Florida's natural beauty.
- Pavlov: a giant American crocodile.
- Jenna: Skip's girlfriend, Brian's ex-girlfriend.
- Jimmy Buffett, a friend of Hiaasen's, based a song on the novel, The Ballad of Skip Wiley. The song also incorporates Hiaasen's character of former Governor Clinton "Skink" Tyree, a later creation of Hiaasen.
- Garcia comments that Las Noches crimes are making Richard Speck, a serial killer, look tame by comparison; likewise, when Jenna claims that Skip is a better man than Brian because he "makes things happen," Brian retorts, "so did Juan Corona[.]" Corona is a Mexican-American serial killer with at least 25 known victims.
- The terrorist group that Jesus Bernal belongs to, "The First Weekend in July Movement," is fictional, but Bernal refers to several real-life anti-Castro terrorist groups operating in South Florida, including Omega 7 and Alpha 66.
- There are multiple references to the early history of Florida that most of the novel's characters remain willfully ignorant of, including the Second Seminole War, Miami's initial founding as Fort Dallas, and the actions of early land barons such as Henry Flagler and Carl Fisher.
Continuity with Hiaasen's Other Works
- Clinton Tyree, one of Hiaasen's few recurring characters, makes his debut in the subsequent novel, Double Whammy. Tyree shares much of Skip Wiley's passionate environmentalism and anger at corruption, though not his indiscriminate murderousness.
- During the civic meeting to discuss Las Noches, one of the city leaders in attendance laments, half-jokingly, that he wishes they had targeted Disney World instead of Miami. In Hiaasen's subsequent novel Native Tongue, the fictional "Amazing Kingdom" theme park carries heavy influence with South Florida politicians, largely because they blame Disney World for siphoning tourists' custom from South Florida to Orlando.
- Several of Hiaasen's novels feature a recurring joke that radiology is a "soft" medical discipline, and those that practice it are not "real" doctors. This novel features the first such joke: aboard the Orange Bowl cruise, a tourist couple introduce themselves as a doctor and his wife; a few minutes later, when his wife is bitten by a snake, the "doctor" does nothing, explaining that, "I'm just a radiologist!"
- Tommy Tigertail, the only surviving member of Las Noches, reappears, peripherally, in Hiaasen's novel Nature Girl. He is a prominent and influential elder of the Seminole tribe, and has recanted his more radical sentiments. He also tells his nephew Sammy, about Wiley, who Tommy believes was reincarnated as a bald eagle. In an ironic scene, just such an eagle perches briefly over Boyd Shreave, the nature-hating antagonist of that novel, and defecates on his head.
- Nature Girl is also the first novel in which Hiaasen returns to the topic of the Second Seminole War, which Tommy dwells on several times in this novel.