If you can pick up and start reading a book by Randy Wayne White, particularly one of his fine Doc Ford novels, without almost immediately being seized by the urge to yank stakes and head down to Florida’s gulf coast, you might want to make sure that you still have a pulse. Ford, a competent marine biologist with a skill set that includes a number of dangerous tools and a somewhat varied employment history, is the kind of guy you would want to have watching your back regardless of the setting, rural or urban. His friendship with Tomlinson, an amiable mystic who is easily and (occasionally) wrongfully dismissed as a waste of skin, is a puzzler, one that is by turns one of the more enigmatic and satisfying in genre fiction. However, it is the backdrop of the Florida waterways and marine land that makes the Ford series such a joy to read.
"The book, which goes down as quickly, smoothly and enjoyably as an adult beverage on a hot summer night, demonstrates that neither White nor his creations are out of literary steam."
One of the 20th century’s most enduring mysteries provides the starting point for NIGHT MOVES. While the term “Bermuda Triangle” is familiar to most, the specific occurrence that mid-wived its origin is arguably not as well known. The incident in question, known as Flight 19, took place in December 1945 when five Navy torpedo bombers captained by experienced pilots became lost off the coast of Florida during training maneuvers and subsequently disappeared without a trace. There are many theories as to what might have happened, and as NIGHT MOVES begins, Ford, Tomlinson and an expert pilot begin an attempt to locate what might be the wreckage of the ill-fated jets. What at first appears to be equipment failure almost results in an abrupt end not only to the expedition but also to the three researchers (not to mention the book and the series). It is quickly determined, however, that there is human design involved in the near-mishap.
The list of potential suspects is a long one, given that neither Ford nor Tomlinson lacks for people who would wish them bodily harm. Tomlinson is legendary --- and not in a good way --- for jumping marital fences; Ford has acquired any number of enemies both while wearing his marine biologist smock and during his more clandestine activities abroad at the behest of the National Security Agency. When a somewhat mysterious stranger subsequently approaches Ford out of the blue and suggests a partnership in his Flight 19 investigation, his hackles go up.
At the same time, an interesting group of individuals have suddenly taken up residence in Ford’s digs on Dinkin’s Bay. One is an extremely wealthy and attractive married woman who has caught Tomlinson’s attention (not a difficult thing to do, by any means), but who seemingly wants to snare Ford in her net. Another is an enigmatic South American who turns out to be a semi-legendary assassin and who is more than likely in the area on an assignment as opposed to a vacation. Ford finds himself forming an unusual and unlikely alliance with one of his new neighbors, partly for protection and partly for informational purposes, never entirely sure if he can fully trust anyone other than the less-than-reliable Tomlinson. It ultimately appears to be clear that Ford is in someone’s crosshairs. But whose? And why?
NIGHT MOVES is not all adventure, action and mystery. There are elements of everyone from Harold Robbins to Tennessee Williams to John D. MacDonald, though when the smoke clears and the sun sets, the vision and presentation to be found here are solely and uniquely White’s. The book, which goes down as quickly, smoothly and enjoyably as an adult beverage on a hot summer night, demonstrates that neither White nor his creations are out of literary steam.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 22, 2013