New Doc Ford is a fast-paced page-turner

March 17, 2008 11:44:09 AM PDT
"Black Widow" by Randy Wayne White

Doc Ford's goddaughter, Shay, never bought his cover story. If he were really just a marine biologist, why is he so secretive about his past? Why all the unexplained absences? Why the late-night visits from dangerous looking strangers?

She figures him for a career criminal, or maybe some kind of secret agent. So when she gets in trouble - the kind that can be solved only with muscle or a bullet - he's the one she turns to for help.

Shay and her bridesmaids had gone down to the Caribbean Island of St. Arc to cut loose before the wedding. Alcohol, a little pot, some flirting with the island boys. But things got out of hand, and someone captured the whole thing on camera. Now, she can buy the pornographic keepsake for $100,000. Otherwise, the blackmailer's going to send it to that rich guy she plans to marry.

Although Doc will never admit it, Shay's right about him. For years, he's used his marine biology research as a cover to travel the world, doing black ops work for the government. So, sure, a blackmailer is something he knows how to handle.

Turns out that Shay and her friends aren't the only victims. Blackmailing wayward women is a cottage industry in St. Arc, and Doc decides to bring the whole operation down.

"Black Widow" is Randy Wayne White's 15th novel featuring Doc Ford, first introduced in "Sanibel Flats" in 1990. All are crisply written, fast-paced page-turners, but some suffer from wildly implausible plots.

In "Hunter's Moon," for example, Ford helps an ex-president who is dying of leukemia sneak away from his Secret Service detail and fly to South America to seek revenge on the serial killer who murdered his wife. But "Black Widow," thankfully has a plot that does not strain the reader's ability to suspend disbelief.

Faithful readers of the series will lament that Tomlinson, Doc's mystical, drug-addled buddy, has only a bit part. But a delightful new character, a spry septuagenerian on retirement from His Majesty's Secret Service, takes up the slack.