Sanibel Flats -- Randy Wayne White
Captiva -- Randy Wayne White
Twelve Mile Limit -- Randy Wayne White
Shark River -- Randy Wayne White
I can't really review these individually, because I've read 'em at breakneck speed: they are not trashy airport thrillers by any means, but they're lighter reading than I've been tackling lately, and they were just what I needed.
I discovered White's Doc Ford novels with The Man Who Invented Florida a couple of years ago: liked it a lot -- covers similar territory to Hiaasen's eco-thrillers, but it's different in tone: more reflective and less headlong, and rather more character-driven, it says here -- and gradually acquired others in the series, and just lately the time's been right to read them.
Basic premise: Marion 'Doc' Ford (you can see why he doesn't use his first name) is an ex-Special Ops operative turned marine biologist; makes a living selling sealife supplies to educational institutions, and has a lacksadaisical attitude to the women who seem to find him irresistable. He's proud of not being governed by emotion (despite the fact that at least once per novel he's almost certainly swayed by, eww, feelings): meanwhile, his friend Tomlinson is very much in tune with the mystical, with auras and reincarnation and past life and hefty doses of ganja. A lot of the fun of these novels is the interplay between the two, and from the supporting cast of Dinker's Bay denizens -- boat and marina people, people who'd rather live a happy lazy low-key life on the Gulf Coast of Florida than be anywhere else.
Sanibel Flats is the first in the series, with a plot somewhat reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie (Mayan emeralds! moving lakes! mystic riddles!) but rather more in the way of character development and sense of place. (All the Doc Ford novels evoke the Florida coast, and the environmental and cultural issues that affect those who live there.) Ford's past is more obvious in this novel than in later ones: also, it's written in third person, and the others I've read are first person. I wonder why the author decided to switch? First-person definitely gets us inside Ford's head, and I think it makes him less stereotypically heroic ...
Captiva is about the feud between pro-net and anti-net factions, and there's some excellent social observation in there. Enjoyed but little to say about it!
Shark River reveals quite a bit more about Ford's murky past as a secret government operative. Again, enjoyed but have little to say.
Twelve Mile Limit is based on a true story of four divers whose boat sunk out in the Gulf: one swam to a light tower and survived, the other three vanished without trace. White's afterword notes that he's tried to explain their disappearance, what could have happened to them in the peculiar wind and water conditions of the Gulf -- basically a thousand-mile-wide lake with two narrow outlets. I found this novel unsettling, but compulsive reading: it did, though, seem to become a little too headlong near the end.
I have one more on hand, Tampa Burn, after which I may have to acquire more. Or maybe the urge -- is it perhaps just an urge for beaches and colourful characters and descriptions of good food?! -- will mellow ...