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Salt River: A Doc Ford Novel


Salt River: A Doc Ford Novel

Full admission here: For someone who prides herself on reading every well-known and not-so-well-known series mystery writer on the planet, I somehow had missed Randy Wayne White. His backlist is impressive, to say the least, and I am all up for finding treasure troves of popular mystery/thriller authors. One of White’s main characters is marine biologist/CIA undercover operative Doc Ford, who lives on a boat moored in a bay on Sanibel Island.

Sanibel Island rang a bell when I read the novel’s teaser, and it all came back to me as I looked at the map in the front of the book. A plus for the author there; I love maps of the setting. In the early 1980s, I was devouring every Travis McGee mystery that I could get my hands on. The author, John D. MacDonald, happened to live just down the coast from my Aunt Evelyn’s beachfront condo on Sanibel Island, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. When I heard that he was practically a neighbor, I had spent much of my early May vacation wading in the bathtub-warm Gulf just across the road. I was warned to keep an eagle eye out for buried egg-laying stingrays and was told that my chances of seeing the elusive Mr. MacDonald were remote. I stepped on a stingray that slithered from beneath my foot (no harm done), but I never saw my idol.

"This is an intriguing plot with twists and turns to spare. White clearly loves Florida, and knows his marine life and coastal flora and fauna."

So when I opened my first-ever Doc Ford novel, which is the 26th installment in the series, it rang a distant happy bell. It is often my habit when reading a new author to go back and check out their backlist. I’ll probably pass on this one; 25 is a daunting number to play catch-up with, and, to be honest, the Doc Ford at this point in the series isn’t a character I want to explore in-depth. Not because of him, but because of his best pal, Tomlinson, who is the main character in SALT RIVER.

Apparently Tomlinson spent a great deal of time in his youth donating to sperm banks, whether for money or for the sheer joy of the process. His Nordic stature and good looks, combined with a considerable IQ and his Ivy League pedigree, made him a perfect choice for couples seeking IVF sperm implantations. Via the combination of the current DNA craze, Facebook and other internet connectivity, several of his twenty-something bio-offspring have been able to track down their progenitor.

For fans of the series, it’s no secret that Doc uses marine biology as cover for his CIA activities. He has many connections in the security world, and Tomlinson, feeling somewhat threatened by this exposure of his past personal life, turns to Doc. Especially when he hears that a rather startling number of his bio-children are planning to hold a “family reunion” to meet each other at a hotel on Sanibel Island. And who is the guest of honor? Bio-dad himself.

This is an intriguing plot with twists and turns to spare. White clearly loves Florida, and knows his marine life and coastal flora and fauna. His focus on the effect of the red tide on the local fishing industry and wildlife is absorbing, and his concern about the environment and global warming are admirable. This resonated with me and helped make it a fun read.

However, Tomlinson turned me off. He’s a woman-chasing hedonist with the morals of an alley cat, and I was kind of glad when I got to the end. I’m no prude, but I had a hard time pairing the nature-loving, bad-guy tracer Doc Ford with the close relationship he has with his crass buddy.  

Reviewed by Roz Shea on February 14, 2020

Salt River: A Doc Ford Novel
by Randy Wayne White

  • Publication Date: January 26, 2021
  • Genres: Adventure, Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
  • ISBN-10: 0735212732
  • ISBN-13: 9780735212732