Randy Wayne White has slowly and steadily built his readership with his Marion “Doc” Ford series. For the most part, these books eschew Florida’s big cities as potential settings and concentrate on its string of islands that lie roughly between Tampa and Fort Myers. It is almost impossible to read his novels without learning something new about one of the most interesting areas in the United States, while such knowledge provides a background for a riveting, exciting plot. White stays true to this form in DEEP SHADOW.
Most of the book takes place over the course of one day in two very different but equally dangerous environments. Arlis Futch, a crusty customer and friend of Ford’s, has purchased some remote Florida acreage that includes a lake. There is a method to Futch’s madness, as he is convinced that the lake holds a long-lost treasure that has been the basis for one of Florida’s many urban legends. The result is that a somewhat reluctant Ford, with his aged hippie pal Tomlinson and 16-year-old Will Chaser, accompany Futch to the lake for what Ford feels will be an underwater wild goose chase. Tomlinson, Chaser and Ford barely get their wetsuits damp before an accident traps Tomlinson and Chaser in an undersea cave. When Ford surfaces to rescue them, however, he finds that dry land is even more dangerous.
While the three men have been diving, a pair of homicidal ex-convicts have come upon the scene. King and Perry, barely out of prison, are a dangerous combination of intellectual stupidity, animal cunning and hair-trigger anger. Motivated by a hare-brained scheme to acquire quick wealth for an early retirement, the pair have already begun a murderous rampage and have no qualms about adding more victims to their list when they encounter Futch manning the dive equipment on the shore of his lake. They have just taken Futch prisoner when Ford surfaces.
Ford must find a way to keep King and Perry from killing him and Futch, while at the same time effectuating the rescue of the two members of the dive team who are trapped below. Ford, who is more of a thinker than a fighter, begins spinning out a story, partially based on truth but woven with lies, to put the two ex-convicts off their guard while playing one off against the other, even as time --- and air --- is running out for Tomlinson and Chaser, and a hidden danger, unknown to any of the principals involved, lurks in the darkness.
Warning: not everyone reaches the end of the book intact. And if you have difficulties with claustrophobia, you more likely than not will find that you have left deep indentations in the cover after you have finished reading. DEEP SHADOW is not all action and adventure, though. One comes away with an appreciation that what lies beneath the surface of Florida’s inland waters is even more interesting than what lies above, and that nature, left to its devices, will adapt reclaim by any means necessary.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 29, 2010