The Hurricane Blonde: A Novel
- By Halley Sutton
- G.P. Putnam’s Sons
- 384 pp.
- Reviewed by Nick Havey
- November 22, 2023
Fame is a killer.
Over the course of the last seven years, Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff have made a name — and a massive career — for themselves through ingenuity, hard work, humor, and their commitment to a topic that seems to have an insatiable fanbase: murder. Their podcast, “My Favorite Murder,” is huge, and their “murderinos” are willing to shell out big bucks just to hear the pair recount the gruesome details of true-crime cases at sold-out shows around the world. Halley Sutton’s new novel, The Hurricane Blonde, smartly takes a page from their playbook.
Salma Lowe, the book’s protagonist, could be a murderino herself. The offspring of Hollywood royalty (think Clint Eastwood marries Elizabeth Taylor), she’s a fallen former child star now in her 30s who guides tourists through Los Angeles’ picturesque neighborhoods to the sites of grotesque murders of beautiful women. Early aughts starlets like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan had each other; Salma has Dominique Dunne, Sharon Tate, and the memory of her own sister, Tawney.
Nicknamed “the Hurricane Blonde” by the tabloids, Tawney was slaughtered at the peak of her fame, and her homicide remains unsolved and ice cold. That is, of course, until Salma stumbles on a body in the pool at her sister’s old house — the last stop on her murder tour. The scene is eerily familiar and an almost shot-for-shot reproduction of Tawney’s death. Even worse? The victim looks just like Salma’s blonde-bombshell sister, right down to the signature hair clip holding back her locks.
The police are unconvinced this woman’s death has any connection to her sister’s murder, but Salma, a recovering addict, can’t help but draw parallels between Ankine Petrosyan — the corpse in the pool — and Tawney. When she learns Petrosyan was the star of Cal Turner’s newest film, Salma dives deep into her own investigation (and the vicious world of fame and fortune she left behind) as she confronts Hollywood’s “most dangerous director,” who just happens to have been Tawney’s ex-fiancé.
The beats that drive The Hurricane Blonde are familiar. As characters are introduced, you can’t help but think something dreadful will be revealed about them and change everything we know about the story so far. And this is true to a point. Sutton smartly avoids reinventing the wheel and gives readers the twists and turns expected of the genre while also offering a wonderful portrayal of L.A. over the years that’s reminiscent of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Sutton’s City of Angels is grittier, sure, but just as faithful; it makes me, a former Angelino, long for a lazy afternoon movie at the Cinerama Dome.
The strength of The Hurricane Blonde, like in Sutton’s The Lady Upstairs before it, is the women at its core. Salma Lowe is an unreliable narrator: an addict who holds a grudge. But she’s also an incredible vehicle for the author’s critique of Tinseltown and the violence, abuse, and trauma it levies against anyone trying to find success there.
Her searing indictment of its obsession with gorgeous young women is relentless and rockets the plot forward to a satisfying if predictable conclusion. In one of my favorite exchanges of the book, Emerald Majors, Salma’s former childhood co-star and a producer on Cal’s ill-fated movie, embodies this critique in a deserved reaming of Salma and her ilk:
“I hate your family because instead of free drinks, you could be using that power to make a difference in the industry, really helping people if you wanted, instead, you’re demanding access to a film shoot because you feel entitled to it. Because you can. But mostly?...Mostly I hate your family because you think you earned everything you have. When the truth is, you haven’t earned a goddamn thing.”
Sophomore novels can be tough to pull off, but Sutton’s is a stunner — in Technicolor.
Nick Havey is director of Institutional Research at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, a thriller and mystery writer, and a lover of all fiction. His work has appeared in the Compulsive Reader, Lambda Literary, and a number of peer-reviewed journals.