Stormy Weather (novel)
|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Preceded by||Strip Tease|
|Followed by||Lucky You|
Stormy Weather is a 1995 novel by Carl Hiaasen. It takes place in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in South Florida, including insurance scams, street fights, hunt for food and shelter, corrupt bureaucracy, ravaged environment and disaster tourists.
Young newlyweds Max and Bonnie Lamb, on their honeymoon at Walt Disney World in Orlando, are taken aback by news of a hurricane making landfall in South Florida. To Bonnie's surprise, Max is possessed by a fervent desire to visit the disaster scene after it has passed through.
Once they arrive, Bonnie is appalled to see Max hopping through hurricane debris and gutted houses with his video camera, treating the devastation as a tourist attraction. She stalks away from him to regain her temper, and is not present when Max is snatched up by "Skink," an ex-governor of Florida now living wild in the Florida country, who attempts to teach him some manners and respect for nature (partly through the use of a shock collar).
At the same time, con artist Edie Marsh, and her sometime partner, an ex-convict nicknamed "Snapper," travel to the hurricane zone to work a personal injury scam. Unfortunately for them, the house they pick belongs to mobile home salesman Tony Torres. A bit sharper than the average hurricane victim, Torres quickly sees through them and takes them hostage with a shotgun. Instead of killing them, he invites them in on his own scam: he's expecting a large settlement from the insurance company, but needs his estranged wife Neria's signature to collect. If Edie poses as the wife, Tony can cut out his real wife, and Edie gets a slice of the take.
Meanwhile, after searching fruitlessly for Max, Bonnie is befriended by Augustine Herrera, an independent young man who is roaming the county in a half-futile search for a menagerie of exotic animals loosed from his deceased uncle's wildlife farm by the hurricane (these animals appear throughout the novel in various bizarre ways).
Edie and Snapper's promising new scam falls apart when Tony Torres is abducted from under their noses and murdered by Ira Jackson, a mob enforcer whose mother lived in one of Torres's sub-standard trailer homes and was killed during the hurricane. After unceremoniously parting ways, each of them discovers a new angle to work: Edie seduces the insurance adjuster, Fred Dove, sent to the Torres home, and convinces him to help her pose as Neria for the insurance payoff. Snapper, meanwhile, partners with Avila, an egregiously corrupt building inspector, to run a phony roofing company and con as much money as possible out of desperate homeowners.
While working the scam, Snapper does two things with long-term consequences: he manages to score a $7,000 cash "deposit" from the dim-witted wife of construction mogul Gar Whitmark; later, when pulled over for a routine traffic stop, he ambushes and savagely beats Highway Patrol Trooper Brenda Rourke, who happens to be the girlfriend of Skink's best friend, Trooper Jim Tile. In the process, he steals Rourke's service weapon, a .357 revolver. Growing bored with the roofing scam, Snapper returns to the Torres house, and blackmails Edie and Fred into letting him in on their insurance scam by posing as the now-deceased Tony Torres.
Ira Jackson next targets Avila, the inspector who approved his mother's trailer court, sight unseen. However, Avila is rescued at the last second by an escaped African lion that pounces on Jackson and eats him. Avila's problems do not end there, however: a wrathful Gar Whitmark tracks the phony roofing scam back to him, and threatens to expose Avila unless Avila pays him back the money Snapper stole, plus the cost of replacing Whitmark's roof.
Skink eventually arranges to hand Max over to Bonnie, and announces that his next order of business is to track down the man who hurt Brenda.
Bonnie has become attracted to Augustine, and at the same time aware of Max's less attractive qualities. When Augustine volunteers to help Skink in his new mission, Bonnie impulsively decides to stay in Florida and go along. Max, preoccupied with a new crisis at his job, flies back to New York without her.
The three track the car Snapper was driving when he assaulted Trooper Rourke back to the Torres house, where they see something bizarre: yet another of Torres' disgruntled former customers has shown up looking to get even. This time it is Levon Stichler, an elderly man enraged by the loss of his home (and his deceased wife's ashes) in the hurricane. Snapper, thinking Stichler is an insurance agent, identifies himself as Torres, only to be attacked with a metal spike in return. The two quickly realize that both have made a mistake.
Fearful that the scam will be exposed, Snapper quickly concocts a plan to drive Stichler south and dump him at a hotel in the Florida Keys. As he and Edie are loading Stichler into a stolen Jeep Cherokee, Skink chooses to intervene, and both he and Bonnie are likewise taken hostage by Snapper using Trooper Rourke's stolen gun. Augustine misses the abduction as he had left the pair to retrieve a tranquilizer rifle from his truck, but quickly deduces what must have happened when he finds everyone missing upon return. By hitting the redial button on the house phone, he learns of their hotel destination in the Keys and notifies Jim Tile.
Tile catches up to the Jeep on the highway and begins to shadow it, but loses the tail when he gets cut off by an opening drawbridge. The sudden involvement of three more unwanted people into the scam has put Snapper on edge and soon his nerves begin to fray. He and Edie argue during the drive and the deteriorating situation is punctuated by Snapper shooting a hole in the roof of the Jeep. Snapper forces them to stop at a liquor store to get him a bottle of whiskey, making the situation even worse. However, it delays him long enough for Augustine to reach the hotel ahead of him.
Upon reaching the hotel, Snapper checks Stichler into a room. To make sure he stays there for at least a couple days, Snapper has hired a pair of prostitutes to keep him "entertained." Unknown to Snapper, the two women blabbed their part in the plan to Avila earlier in the day, and he has also come to the Hotel, demanding Snapper fix the fallout from the roofing scam. Snapper chases Avila away, forcing him to jump off a bridge into the ocean. Augustine uses this opportunity to conceal himself inside the getaway Jeep with the rifle. When Snapper and the rest of the hostages return to the Jeep and attempt to leave, Jim Tile arrives and is immediately shot by Snapper. Thanks to a bulletproof vest, Jim Tile survives.
Convinced he's killed Tile, Snapper decides to dump the Jeep and transfers everyone to a Cadillac he carjacks at gunpoint from a convenience store parking lot. Augustine emerges from hiding and follows them in the Jeep. Catching up, he manages to steer alongside and shoot Snapper through the window with a tranquilizer dart that quickly renders him unconscious.
Knowing that Tile's shooting will bring the police out in full force, the party abandons the vehicles and retreats into the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge to wait until the coast is clear. Around a campfire that night, Skink enacts revenge on Snapper for his actions against both Rourke and Tile before knocking him out with another tranquilizer dart. Skink decides that Edie deserves a second chance but Snapper is irredeemable. Edie, Bonnie and Augustine are led back to civilization by Skink while Snapper is left to fend for himself in the wild.
- Max and Bonnie's marriage is annulled; a chance meeting between Edie and Max leads to her accompanying him back to New York, where they become engaged, Max restarts his advertising career, and Edie becomes active in organizing charity relief for victims of natural disasters;
- Bonnie and Augustine move to a house in Chokoloskee, on the edge of the Ten Thousand Islands, where Bonnie becomes an avid outdoor photographer;
- Avila is picked up by a Coast Guard cutter, passes himself off as a Cuban refugee, and is repatriated to Florida, where he resumes his career as a corrupt building inspector under a false name; a few months later, he dies after being bitten by a rabid rabbit, while fumbling an attempt to sacrifice it for a santeria rite;
- Gar Whitmark escapes the wrath of his homeowner customers by declaring bankruptcy and reviving his construction companies under different names; after he is killed in a freak accident at one of his construction sites, his widow donates his entire estate to the Church of Scientology;
- Brenda Rourke recovers from her injuries, and eventually marries Jim, who gives her a replica of her mother's wedding band for Christmas;
- Snapper's skeleton is discovered in the Crocodile Lake Refuge, except for his skull, which joins Augustine's collection.
- Bonnie Lamb
- Max Lamb
(many of these characters are one-off characters, appearing only in brief vignettes, illustrating Hiaasen's overriding theme of the chaos unleashed by the Hurricane)
- Keith Higstrom: a young man and ardent hunting enthusiast, whose love for guns greatly outweighs his proficiency with them (his father abruptly terminated the family hunting tradition after a teenaged Keith accidentally shot off his ear with a rifle). After the hurricane unleashes livestock from nearby farms into the Miami suburbs, Keith decides to "hunt" in his own neighborhood. Seeing a Cape Buffalo escaped from Augustine's uncle's farm, he excitedly tries to shoot it, but misses, and is impaled to death when the animal charges at him.
- Christophe Michel: a French engineer for a home construction company, with somewhat shaky credentials; in designing and building upscale suburban homes, he has, with his superiors' full encouragement, foregone structural soundness for cost-cutting. When the subdivision he designed is annihilated by the hurricane, he quickly withdraws his life savings from the bank and prepares to flee the country, only to have them stolen by Snapper.
Allusions to real-life persons, places, or events
- Edie refers to the William Kennedy Smith Trial when devising her plan to blackmail the family by seducing one of them.
- Snapper's real name is "Lester Maddox Parsons." His parents, both white supremacists, named him after Georgia governor Lester Maddox, a famed segregationist, at his mother's insistence; his father favored James Earl Ray, the assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. After his parents' ignominious expulsion from the Ku Klux Klan, Snapper's mother became a volunteer for the several political campaigns of segregationist J.B. Stoner.
- Several references are made to past hurricanes passing through the Southern U.S., including Camille and Donna. Augustine claims his parents conceived him during Donna.
- Hiaasen makes a mocking reference to a passing visit to the scene of the disaster by the President of the United States. Though the novel was published in 1995, during the Bill Clinton Presidency, Hurricane Andrew occurred in 1992; this date, coupled with Hiaasen's description of the unnamed President as a Republican, accompanied by his son, is a clear reference to George H. Bush, accompanied either by George W. Bush or his younger son, Jeb (Jeb served as governor of Florida from 1999–2007).
Connections with Hiaasen's other works
- Skink, f.k.a. Clinton Tyree, and Jim Tile previously appeared in Hiaasen's novels Double Whammy and Native Tongue; Tile makes reference to Skink's loss of his eye in Double Whammy and his highway sniping of rental cars and his arson of an amusement park in Native Tongue.
- When Skink takes Max to an abandoned Stilt house in Biscayne Bay, he mentions that its former occupant was a retired investigator for the State Attorney's office; this is an oblique reference to Mick Stranahan, the protagonist of Hiaasen's novel Skin Tight.
- The aftermath of Hurricane Andrew was fertile ground for several news stories exposing real-life corruption and incompetence in the construction industry and local and state governments; Hiaasen wrote several scathing columns in the Miami Herald. In particular, he derided the industry's and government's apologists for describing Hurricane Andrew as "the storm of the century," or "The Big One" - in other words, excusing their own shoddy construction or incompetence by exaggerating the force of the hurricane.