Randy Wayne White has broken through to the good side of the bestseller lists the old-fashioned way: chipping away at the barrier, book by book. Always a good writer and storyteller, his first few novels earned readers' respect, if not always a notation or recommendation. This gradually changed as each new title, featuring the slow but sure development of the enigmatic Doc Ford, got a bit better. Lately, White has been taking quantum leaps forward with each new work, and NIGHT VISION, his most recent offering, is one of those books that you'd stand in line at midnight to read first.
Taking place over the course of a very rough 36 hours or so, NIGHT VISION begins with Ford, a highly respected marine biologist who is much, much more, being dragged on to a fool's errand by his strange but occasionally spot-on friend Tomlinson, a self-styled mystic who manages to keep at least a few toes, and sometimes more, on the reality side of his self-constructed plane. The Florida gulf coast is home to a number of trailer parks populated by migrant workers --- some legal, mostly otherwise. One of them, Red Citrus, is known as Little Guadalajara. Harris Squires, the park manager, and his girlfriend Frankie are a pair of roid freaks whose income is supplemented by manufacturing and selling a home brew of injectable body-building supplements and using illegal migrant workers as unwilling participants in a homemade porn film business.
Tomlinson has learned of Tula, a young Guatemalan girl at the park who is believed by the residents to talk with God, and whose own role model is Joan of Arc. Tula has been searching for her mother, who has disappeared, and Tomlinson believes that she is deserving of whatever help they can provide. But Tula is in serious trouble; she witnessed Squires dumping the body of a dead prostitute into a lake, and thus has become a liability in Squires's ledger, which must be disposed of sooner rather than later.
Ford and Tomlinson no sooner arrive at the trailer park, however, when their attention is diverted by the attack of a gigantic alligator on one of the camp's residents. Tula disappears in the resulting confusion. And when evidence turns up that the lake has been the final resting place for more than one missing prostitute, Squires takes off as well, leaving behind one very angry Frankie and an even angrier Hispanic gang leader, who regarded the missing women as his personal property. When the dust settles and the smoke clears, it is Ford alone who possesses the requisite skill set to recover the girl and to see that a rough justice is meted out. He interjects himself into an apocalyptic conclusion that leaves almost no one standing and may well destroy the innocent life that he has pledged and promised to save.
Randy Wayne White has been an accomplished storyteller from day one. What has been remarkable to watch over the past several years is the manner in which he has honed his wordcraft, painting beautiful and occasionally violent pictures that stay in the mind long after the tale is told. NIGHT VISION is nothing less than White at the top of his game, a very high pinnacle indeed. And though the book is complete in itself, I cannot wait for the next installment to see what transpires. Not to be missed.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 28, 2011