Hannah Smith, an inhabitant of Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford universe who was prominently featured in 2012’s GONE, returns in DECEIVED, the second of what appears to be a planned series featuring Ford’s love interest, who is presented as a part-time fishing guide, a part-time private investigator, and capable through and through. Neither Ford nor his perennial sidekick Tomlinson are totally absent --- Ford makes all-too-brief bookended appearances at the beginning and end --- but his absence is felt throughout, not only by Smith, but also by the reader.
Smith has a complicated relationship with her mother, Loretta, and it is this element of the story that gets the book rolling. When a close friend of Loretta’s goes off the telephone radar, Smith initiates a well-visit check only to find the house in disarray and the woman missing. Worse, Smith is attacked by a mysterious masked assailant. The friend is subsequently found, dead as the result of an apparent accident, but evidence of a possibly bogus fundraising organization, a pseudo historical museum with ties to the woman’s underachieving adult children, raises Smith’s suspicions. At the same time, Loretta and most of her older neighbors seem to have been pressured to make contributions to the museum but are extremely reticent to speak to Smith about it.
"Smith has a complicated relationship with her mother, Loretta, and it is this element of the story that gets the book rolling."
Smith soon finds a number of interesting coincidences popping up, with none more so than an unsolved homicide from some two decades ago that, oddly enough, featured the abusive husband of Loretta’s dead friend as the unfortunate --- and dismembered --- victim. The local prosecutor, a roguishly good-looking gentleman who has been bird-dogging Smith during Ford’s sudden --- and, more or less, unexplained --- absence, may have some of the answers, though he has a few secrets of his own as well. Smith, with help from a new friend in the sheriff’s department, discovers that what started out as a favor to her somewhat addled but nonetheless crafty mother is leading her to a very dangerous destination, one in which a secret that has been closely held for years intersects with a plan by some modern-day carpetbaggers to make a killing, financially and otherwise.
While the underlying plot is contemporary --- those in the real world who desire to prey on the elderly find Florida to be a target-rich environment --- Smith is simply not an interesting enough character to carry the book. DECEIVED is better during those vignettes when Ford is front and center; when he is absent, the air more often than not goes out of the novel. The notable exception is during the climax, when Smith gets into and out of an extended jam quite handily. Ultimately, though, the story ends with a couple of unresolved secondary plot threads that conceivably could be resolved in a subsequent Ford novel or a later installment in the Hannah Smith series. I’m hoping for the former.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 6, 2013