Doc Ford tackles old Florida mystery


Meet the author

Randy Wayne White will appear:

•  7 p.m. Monday at Murder on the Beach, 273 Pineapple Grove Way, Delray Beach, 561-279-7790

•  8 p.m. March 18 at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, 305-442-4408.

Florida’s history is fairly recent. But what the state lacks in longevity, it makes up in oddities and eccentricities.

Randy Wayne White takes one of Florida’s most iconic historical mysteries — the 1945 disappearance of Flight 19 that sparked rumors of the Bermuda Triangle — and turns it into a tailor-made story for his own icon, Doc Ford. Although he’s reluctant at first, Ford finds that Flight 19 is the sort of mystery that allows him to use all aspects of his background as a marine biologist, a committed ecologist and his “shadow” role as a government agent.

There are occasional stumbles, but drawing on his usual mix of science, ecology and Florida lore, White gives us an exciting story in Night Moves. On Dec. 5, 1945, five Navy torpedo bombers disappeared on a training flight after taking off in Fort Lauderdale. All 14 airmen on the flight were lost; another 13 professional investigators searching for the missing bombers died when their plane exploded in mid-air. The disappearance remains unsolved.

Ford’s friend, seaplane pilot Dan Futch, believes the flight wasn’t lost over the Atlantic but in the Gulf of Mexico. Ford and his hippie best friend Tomlinson go with Dan on their own search. But shortly after taking off, Dan is forced to land on an island. The pilot is convinced that someone tried to sabotage his plane, but who’s the target? Dan’s outspoken views have riled some wealthy fishermen. Tomlinson’s recreational use of marijuana has infuriated a couple of dealers, while his sexual escapades have raised the ire of a husband or two. And Ford wonders which government operatives want revenge.

Back home at Dinkin’s Bay in Sanibel Island, Ford’s work as a scientist is interrupted by an aggressive filmmaker, a Haitian drug dealer and an expert assassin.

The strength of the Ford series derives from its almost seamless veering from tense action to the quiet scenes of marina life. Ford finds a lost dog and Tomlinson begins an affair with a married woman, but nothing is inconsequential in Night Moves. Even the ecology lessons — a tarpon study that Ford has done for the state and unethical fishing habits — are rife with tension, especially when fishing tournament prizes can top $500,000.

Night Moves illustrates why, after 20 novels, Ford’s double life and White’s attention to the Florida scenery continue to intrigue readers.

Hard choices

A gripping plot seamlessly melds with a personal look at a man at a crossroads in his life and a family wracked by secrets and lies in the excellent Heart of Ice.

The 10th novel in P.J. Parrish’s Louis Kincaid series, Heart of Ice is a story about a man reclaiming his life and how we lose so much of what we care about through carelessness, misplaced priorities and obsession.

Like many of us, Louis needs to make a change. The young private detective wants to return to law enforcement, to regain the authority and the respect that carrying a badge brought him. But his decisions about his personal life take priority. He wants a real bond with Lily, the 10-year-old daughter he only recently found out about. The Florida-based detective also needs to find out where he stands with Joe Frye, the girlfriend with whom he’s been having a long-distance relationship.

Louis has brought Lily for a three-day trip to Michigan’s picturesque Mackinac Island just before the remote tourist area shuts down for the winter. After their trip, Louis will travel to nearby Echo Bay, where Joe is the sheriff. But the vacation has barely begun when Lily falls on top of a skeleton in the basement of an abandoned hunting lodge.

While he is sure this is a decades-old homicide, Louis doesn’t want to get involved, hoping to concentrate on his daughter. But Lily urges him to help, and Louis sees a way to win his child’s respect. The remains belong to a wealthy industrialist’s teenage daughter, who vanished in 1969. The case doesn’t move smoothly for Louis, who is dealing with a family forever stymied by the young woman’s disappearance, an inexperienced local police chief and an arrogant state investigator who once worked with Joe.

Parrish, the pen name of two sisters, Kelly Nichols of Michigan and Kris Montee of Fort Lauderdale, delivers a gripping peek into the private and sometimes messy life of a wealthy family, a story that surprises with every twist. Heart of Ice also delves into the lives of those who call Mackinac Island home while showcasing the area’s charming Victorian atmosphere. Kincaid, the heart of the series, matures with each outing, and here he’s forced to make some hard choices.

Parrish also is releasing this month a Kindle-only novella, Claw Back, that takes place in the Everglades and is a sort of prequel to Heart of Ice.

Oline H. Cogdill reviewed these books for The Sun Sentinel.

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