The past comes disconcertingly alive for Doc Ford, in a series that continues to grow in popularity and acclaim.
Randy Wayne White's Ten Thousand Islands was "one of the most satisfying thrillers in recent memory" wrote the Chicago Tribune, and the starred review in Publishers Weekly said, "Of all the writers [in] the Florida mayhem boom, only White can claim to have created a series hero to match Hemingway's memorable outdoorsmen and John D. MacDonald's much-missed Travis McGee." And now White has created his most electrifying novel yet.
On a working vacation to Guava Key, marine biologist Doc Ford notices two female joggers who follow the same route at the same time every day. He can't help thinking how easy it would be for a predator to become aware of them, too. As it turns out, he isn't the only one. There seem to be more and more predators these days.
Forced to step in, Ford finds himself involved in a story of intrigue and revenge that becomes more dangerous with every turn-and some of them hit pretty close to home. Add to that a Bahamian relative he never knew he had, a letter leading to a treasure that may or may not exist, and some past history that becomes very alarmingly present, and his life has suddenly become very complicated. Not to mention the prospect of his death. . . .
Filled with crackling power and atmosphere, and some of the best suspense characters in fiction, Shark River is a triumph of storytelling.
About the Author
Randy Wayne White is the author of seventeen previous Doc Ford novels and four collections of nonfiction. He lives in an old house built on an Indian mound in Pineland, Florida.
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THE DAY I met the Bahamian woman who claimed to be my sister, and less than an hour before I was shot during the attempted kidnapping of a diplomat's daughter, my eccentric friend Tomlinson said to me, "Know how desperate I am? I'm thinking of having Elmer Fudd tattooed on my ass. Seriously, the cartoon character. You know who I'm talking about? The chubby guy with the red hunting cap, the one with the shotgun."
My eccentric, drug-modified friend Tomlinson.
I was lying in a hammock, leafing through a very old issue of Copeia, Journal of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. It contained an article on Gulf sturgeon, written back in the days when the occasional sturgeon was still caught in saltwater south of Tampa Bay. I paused long enough to straighten my glasses and stare at him. "You're kidding. From the Bugs Bunny cartoons? Even a regular tattoo, I've never understood the motivation. Something like you're talking about, I just can't comprehend."
"I told you about the...difficulty I've been having."
Yes, he had. Over and over he'd told me. Which is why I thought: Boy oh boy oh boy, here we go again.
"I did tell you, didn't I?"
"Yes, and I don't care to hear any more about your personal problems. It's sunset. In your own words: The Mellow Yellow Hour. I'm trying to relax before I change shoes and run. Don't screw with the molecular harmony--again, your words."
"I know, I know, but this is serious."
"So you keep saying."
"Anything that concerns Zamboni and the Hat Trick Twins is serious. They're just not theirselves, man."
Zamboni and the Twins--my friend's private name for his private equipment.
He explained, "The inflatable monster has finally turned all control over to my brain's moral guidance system, which is like a stone cold downer." He made a fizzling, whistling sound. "Sooner or later, it happens to every man, right?...Right?"
It was the fourth, maybe fifth time he'd asked me that question, but when a friend fishes for reassurance, you must reassure. "Of course. Very few exceptions."
"Okay, so you at least have a minor understanding of the motive behind the tattoo. Picture it"--Tomlinson created a frame with his huge, bony hands--"Elmer Fudd on the cheek of my ass, aiming his shotgun toward the shadows and he's saying, 'Come outta there you wascally wabbit!' Lots of bold color, reds and greens, but still...tasteful. Something that lightens the mood but also makes a statement."
I was nodding. "Yeah, choose the wrong shades, a tattoo like that could seem almost frivolous."
"Sarcasm. My equipment hasn't worked dependably in more than two months, yet my compadre offers sarcasm."
"Only because it's such a ridiculous idea. I still don't understand the motivation. Or maybe you're just joking."
We were on the second-floor veranda of a tin-roofed house, eye level with palm fronds and coconuts. Looking downward through the palms, we could see clay tennis courts, a swimming pool, sugar-white beach, and bay. Florida's Gulf Coast has a couple of exclusive, members-only islands. Guava Key is the one you read about occasionally, always associated with the very rich and rigorously private. The island is south of Tampa, north of Naples: a hundred acres of manicured rainforest and private homes centered on a turn-of-the-century fishing lodge built on an Indian mound. It is an island with no roads, no bridges, no cars and no strip malls, so it has the feel of a solid green raft at sea--boat and helicopter access only.
We were on Guava Key as guests of management. Tomlinson, an ordained Rinzai Zen Master and Buddhist priest, was there to teach a moneyed few members a course called "Beginner's Mind," which, I knew from our long association, has to do with Zen meditation and breathing techniques. I have no interest in meditation, nor do I feel the need to take vacations. Life in my little Sanibel Island stilthouse, collecting marine specimens to study and sell, is sufficiently satisfying. Plus, I tend to fret about my fish tank and aquaria if I'm gone for more than a few days. In them are delicate creatures that interest me, such as immature tarpon, sea anemones, and squid--fascinating animals that require a lot of care. Even so, he'd pestered me about tagging along until I finally lost patience. I told him enough was enough. Unless he came up with a good and practical reason for me to leave my work and go to Guava Key, drop the subject, damn it!
I should have learned by now never to refuse one of Tomlinson's invitations by invoking a preferred alternative. He's probably right when he says that I'm obsessive. I'm almost certainly right in my belief that he's manic. When the man becomes fixated, nothing can untrack him.
What he did was hunt around until he came up with a gambit that was professionally compelling and made too much sense for me to say no. It turned out that the state required Guava Key Inc. to file periodic fish counts from adjacent waters, all data to be assembled by an accredited marine biologist--something to do with past zoning variances. As owner and lone employee of Sanibel Biological Supply, I am an accredited, independent biologist for hire. He'd contacted management, and management had offered me a generous figure, all expenses paid, for myself and a guest. Jeth Nicholes had already assured Tomlinson that he and his girlfriend, Janet Mueller, would keep an eye on my stilthouse and feed my fish, so I had no choice but to accept.
Finding an appropriate guest, though, turned out to be more difficult than you might imagine.
The first person I called was Dewey Nye, the former tennis star. Dewey and I are old friends. For a time, we were on-again, off-again lovers. On-again, off-again until we both realized that the chemistry was wrong, quite literally. Mostly, though, she is my all-time favorite workout partner. By telephone, we agreed that, after the holiday season just past, a couple of Spartan weeks on Guava Key was just what we needed to shed a few pounds and cleanse our systems.
"Every morning," she told me, "we'll do a long swim, then a kickass run. Really push the envelope. Finish everything at P-squared."
I had to ask. "P-squared? What's P-squared?"
"I keep forgetting what an out-of-touch old hulk you really are. So I'll be delicate. It's jock for 'Upchuck pace.' Only, the first P doesn't stand for upchuck."
"They've got a health club? So we lift weights heavy every other day, then limit ourselves to two, maybe three cocktails in the evening. Our own little basic training retreat. After New Year's in New Jersey--it's been gray and sleeting for like twenty damn days in a row--after a couple weeks of this, shut up indoors with Rita, her poodle and her aluminum Christmas tree, I'm not sure who or what's gonna die first: my holiday spirit, or that damn yapping dog. What I need is a serious dose of Florida heat."
But five days before she was to fly in from Newark, Dewey's roommate, Rita Santoya, suffered an all-too-familiar bout of jealousy. Latin men are said to be possessive. It's an unfair generalization, yet Latin woman, apparently, can be just as bad as their clichéd counterparts. After a series of quarrels, Rita issued an ultimatum: If Dewey visited me in Florida, there was no need for her to come back.
As always, Dewey acquiesced.
"Maybe next time, Doc, when Rita feels a little more secure in our relationship. Don't worry, we'll get together again."
I told Dewey, any time, lady, any time, knowing there would probably never be a next time.
Male or female, the possessive ones never feel secure. Nor do their mates.
So I went through the short list: Dr. Kathleen Rhodes, but she was back in the Yucatan, doing field work. Nora Chung was available, but now had a romantic interest in a solicitous, sympathetic physician and didn't want to risk burdening the relationship so early in the game. Erin Bostwick was already scheduled to work the late shift all month at Timbers; Sally Minster (formerly Sally Carmel) was in the process of divorcing the neurotic abuser she'd married, but didn't feel right about slipping away with me until the legalities were complete.
She was disappointed. "I've had a crush on you since I was, what? Eight years old? Since the days you were living with your crazy uncle Tucker Gatrell, the dear sweet man, on that funky little mangrove ranch of his. So now you call."
Here's one of the ironies of male-female association: With women of sufficient character and humor, it takes only a few weeks to forge an intimate relationship, yet their well-being remains a matter of concern even years after parting. Their dilemmas still squeeze the heart.
One night, I found myself in my little lab, sitting beneath the goose-neck lamp, making a list of desperate last-minute replacement ladies. Thankfully, I caught myself. I've reached a stage in my life in which the little social interaction I have is guided by a simple maxim: I'd rather be alone than with people with whom I feel no emotional connection. That includes women.
Solitude is much preferred to the more disturbing isolation of sharing loneliness with a stranger.
I made no more telephone calls.
—Reprinted from Shark River by Randy Wayne White by permission of Berkley, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © May 2002, Randy Wayne White. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Excerpted from "Shark River"
Copyright © 2002 Randy Wayne White.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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