One could pitch Randy Wayne White’s new Doc Ford thriller as “Die Hard on an island.” While not totally inaccurate, such a description over-simplifies the book. CHASING MIDNIGHT is a bit more cerebral, and even tosses a whodunit element into the mix. One would expect no less from White and Ford. White’s marine biologist with the special-op skill set has been a compelling protagonist from the jump, and the stories that White has been crafting around him have equaled the character. The latest installment of the series continues that practice. It documents a very long and dangerous night for Ford and an intriguing cast of characters while along the way providing a bit of education concerning marine life.
"By the last hundred pages or so, you won’t be able to read fast enough... White continues his penchant for providing thinking readers with action-packed thrillers that are also thoughtful and informative."
CHASING MIDNIGHT opens at a party on a private island near Ford’s Sanibel digs. Ford and his friend --- the ever-present, often-confounding Tomlinson --- have finagled an invitation to the fete that is being hosted by Victor Kazlov, a Russian caviar exporter with a shady reputation as a black marketer. His guests include his chief rivals in the business. The purpose of the get-together is ostensibly to drum up interest in a new import company in the United States. Unofficially, Kazlov is grooming the rumor that he has found a new --- and legal --- way to alter the DNA of gulf sturgeon in order to rapidly produce larger eggs. A radical environmental group has also found its way onto the island and makes the proceedings prickly at best. Ford wants to take a look at Kazlov’s yacht that appears to be suspicious, so he slips away from the festivities and goes underwater.
Everything changes within 20 minutes: there is gunfire, communications are cut off, and the partygoers are being held captive. The threat is made to kill one guest per hour until midnight, at which time everyone will be dead. Ford is all that stands between the killers and the potential victims. Bet on Ford, of course. But he is at a disadvantage. He has no idea who among those assembled on the island has precipitated the crisis. Is it one of Kazlov’s competitors eager to settle an old score? Is it perhaps the enigmatic Chinese millionaire who has remained quiet throughout the party? Or is it the green group, who are ready to strike a blow against Kazlov on behalf of Mother Earth?
Ford has very little time to determine, in the words of the limerick, who is doing what and to whom. Worst of all, his pal Tomlinson may be in the thick of it on one side or the other. Ford is going to have to rely on every one of his physical and mental abilities to see the night through if he is going to keep the hostages --- and himself --- alive. But that may be too tall an order, even for someone with a skill set such as Ford’s.
As is always true with White’s books, one does not walk away from CHASING MIDNIGHT without learning something. In this case, White, through Ford, offers a glimpse into the caviar industry. An aside here: I am not a fan of caviar and had not a bit of interest in how such a commodity got from sea to plate. That has changed. Within the space of a few pages interspaced here and there throughout the book, Ford explains why the delicacy is such a luxury and what is occurring with respect to the world’s supply. It is fascinating reading worth the price of admission alone.
While the pacing may be a bit slow during the first third or so of the book, things clip along steadily by the midway point. By the last hundred pages or so, you won’t be able to read fast enough (despite what you may have read elsewhere). White continues his penchant for providing thinking readers with action-packed thrillers that are also thoughtful and informative.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 27, 2012