Randy Wayne White has painstakingly carved a beautiful but dangerous universe out of the Sanibel Island area of Florida’s Gulf Coast with his Doc Ford novels. A former NSA agent, Ford is a marine biologist with a penchant for attracting trouble from unlikely sources; his background enables him to maintain a quiet but dependable capability in the face of danger. All of the Ford novels are gems, due in equal parts to the character development that has gradually taken place since the publication of SANIBEL FLATS in 1990 and White’s pitch-perfect use of the Gulf Coast as a backdrop in each of his books. GONE, his latest novel, is a departure from the Ford series, introducing a new protagonist with the potential to be as intriguing as Ford has become.
"GONE is a good debut, and those more familiar with Doc Ford should definitely give this separate but related new series a chance, particularly for White’s continuing ability to make the wild beauty of the Florida Gulf Coast so appealing."
Hannah Smith is an archetypal Florida woman, though somewhat of a late bloomer by her own description. She is employed as a fishing guide, but has also inherited a private investigation agency from her uncle; between the two occupations, she manages to keep herself afloat financially, though barely so. Hannah’s two part-time jobs intersect when Lawrence Seasons, a wealthy fishing client, becomes impressed with Hannah’s ability to quickly respond to the danger occasioned by a squall that arises suddenly during a fishing expedition. Aware of Hannah’s private investigation agency, Seasons subsequently retains her to locate his niece, a somewhat troubled young woman named Olivia who is about to become extremely wealthy, once she signs some necessary papers that are in Seasons’ possession. His reasoning for hiring Hannah is sound, given her deep roots in the community and her knowledge of the area.
Indeed, it does not take Hannah very long at all to discover that Olivia has apparently taken up with a good-looking but extremely manipulative ne’er-do-well named Ricky Meeks, who has been cutting a wide swath through the female side of the rich and famous in the Gulf Coast area, leaving a trail of bitterness and recrimination in his wake. The problem is that the more recent sightings of Ricky have not included sightings of Olivia, and no one is truly sure if Olivia is still with him or has wandered off on a further frolic of her own. Ricky is not just a heartbreaker, but also a loose cannon in his own right, one who resents Hannah’s nosing into what he considers to be his business. Ricky and Hannah are set for a collision course, one that will test all of Hannah’s fortitude to its limits.
GONE is not quite as sure-footed as some of White’s other books, which I ascribe to the introduction of a new character in a very familiar setting and a wish, perhaps, on the part of the author to let the debut of what appears to be a new series sink or swim on its own terms. At first I kept expecting Ford to come strolling in to lend an air of familiarity to the proceedings, but soon came to the realization that such anticipation was hardly fair. GONE is not a Ford book. His presence, however, is manifested in a spot or two throughout. It seems as though Ford and his friend Tomlinson have intersected with Hannah’s ancestors in the past, a convergence that with respect to Ford may be about to repeat itself with the younger Hannah.
GONE is a good debut, and those more familiar with Doc Ford should definitely give this separate but related new series a chance, particularly for White’s continuing ability to make the wild beauty of the Florida Gulf Coast so appealing.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 7, 2012