“Salt River," Putnam, by Randy Wayne White
Thirty years have zipped by since Randy Wayne White first introduced readers to Doc Ford and his pals in “Sanibel Flats,” and from time to time the mostly solid crime fiction series seems to falter. “Salt River,” the 26th Ford novel, is one of those times.
White’s prose is better than OK, of course, and Doc’s fans will be pleased that old friends, including the protagonist’s love interest, Hannah Smith, and his aging hippie pal, Tomlinson, are part of the action. But the book’s twin plots are far-fetched, even for a Doc Ford novel, and readers who aren’t already familiar with the relationships between the characters might feel a bit lost.
In fact, one of the plots picks up the story told in “Caribbean Rim,” when Doc outmaneuvered a bunch of thugs hunting Spanish gold in waters off the Bahamas and secretly made off with a portion of it for himself.
These days, Doc, a semi-retired intelligence operative scratching out a living as a marine biologist on Florida’s Sanibel Island, is gradually selling off his find. But a dishonest former IRS agent and a thuggish Bahamian customs official get wind of it and hope to trick Doc into revealing the location of the rest of the treasure.
While that’s going on, Tomlinson, who once sold his semen to a for-profit sperm bank when he was strapped for cash, is beset by a bunch of full-grown biological children who have managed to track him down. And Doc has reason to believe that one or two of them may be up to no good.
Meanwhile, Doc’s on-again, off-again relationship with Hannah, with whom he has fathered a child, shows his vulnerable side. Once again, she turns down his marriage proposal, and her new boyfriend has him struggling with an unfamiliar emotion. He’s jealous.
White spun off Hannah in 2012, and the four books and counting in that series have a freshness that some recent Ford novels are lacking. ___
Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”