Bone Deep: A Doc Ford Novel
It’s nice to see Marion “Doc” Ford again. BONE DEEP, Randy Wayne White’s latest foray into the environs of central Florida’s Sanibel Island, is a welcome literary respite from the tail end of a miserable winter. Ford, the laid-back but quietly dangerous marine biologist, is the balance to Tomlinson, his brilliant but somewhat unbalanced anarchist friend whose contact with this world is frequently interrupted, through chemical means and otherwise, by sojourns into the mental ozone and beyond. BONE DEEP, the 21st installment in the Ford canon, is one of White’s most complex, revving slowly but steadily to an ironic and intriguing finish.
"Those who seek entertainment balanced with knowledge and information --- particularly when, as here, it concerns a fascinating topic --- will be neither disappointed nor displeased."
White has been at the game for a while and has developed a confidence in his writing that eschews literary trends and fads. Those expecting explosions and karate within the first few pages will have to wait a bit before their patience is rewarded. This is not a bad thing, as White takes Ford and the reader into the complex world of antiquities and fossils. Tomlinson, interestingly enough, is the catalyst for this. A Crow Indian named Duncan “Dunk” Fallsdown is on the track of some tribal relics that he believes to have been stolen from his tribe’s reservation and transported to central Florida. Tomlinson and Fallsdown have a history shrouded somewhere in Tomlinson’s somewhat murky past, and thus Ford, with some mild reluctance, becomes involved in the dangerous and extremely profitable world of relic and fossil black marketeering.
And a fascinating world it is; if your contact with fossils has been digging for shells or the occasional shark tooth on ocean beaches, you will be amazed at what is out there (and what is not) and what can be had if one knows where to look. A clandestine visit to the home of a recently deceased “collector” and “dealer” puts the trio in possession of some extremely valuable artifacts and in the crosshairs of a mysterious and crazed motorcyclist with a hidden agenda. At the same time, Tomlinson’s rakish antics put Ford in contact with Leland Albright, a wealthy industrialist who wants Ford, in his capacity as a marine biologist, to run tests on the water adjacent to his phosphate mining operation in order to ensure that he passes environmental muster.
It seems everyone has an agenda --- from Albright, his smouldering wife and hot-to-trot twin daughters and troubled stepson, to a loudmouth antiquities guide who is less than what he presents but more than what he seems. As for Ford, he is older and wiser, easing up on the throttle even as he tries to sort out his feelings for Hannah Smith and their on-again, changed-again relationship. The main protagonist, however, is “Bone Valley” of central Florida, where prehistoric relics abound. A quotation at the beginning of the book from an article printed in Smithsonian Magazine haunts throughout the pages that follow, right up to the last sentence. There are some things we may never know.
BONE DEEP is perhaps more cerebral than some of the other Doc Ford novels, though its ending certainly does not lack for excitement. White seems to be letting Ford age quietly, though not necessarily gently. Those who seek entertainment balanced with knowledge and information --- particularly when, as here, it concerns a fascinating topic --- will be neither disappointed nor displeased.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 14, 2014