“Night Vision,” by Randy Wayne White. Putnam. 368 pages. $25.95.
In the 18th installment of Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford mystery series, the artistic stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. The rich amalgam of sensibilities that the author has fused together raises his new novel several notches above the genre expectations that Mr. White has always satisfied with cunning and passion. His portrait of a Guatemalan girl on the edge of adolescence, a true believer on a fateful mission, is startling and emotionally stirring. It is also spiritually uplifting. “Night Vision” goes way beyond tough guy action (Ford is the only cerebral marine biologist action figure you’re ever likely to meet), yet there is plenty of that, too.
In a squalid Southwest Florida mobile home park called Red Citrus, a young girl named Tula witnesses the park manager dumping a corpse into a polluted lake. The man, Harris Squires, is a steroid junky body-builder and all-around creep, and his girlfriend Frankie is even worse. Together, they run a steroid brew factory and are involved with several other criminal enterprises including prostitution, snuff flicks, and human trafficking. Squires knows that Tula has seen him, and he needs to silence her.
Tula has traveled on her own from Guatemala hoping to find her mother and other relatives. She is convinced that their decision to fracture family life for the illusion of financial betterment has been misguided. She wants to bring them home, restore them to themselves. A wise, disciplined, worshipful young person, Tula believes that she receives advice and direction for Joan of Arc, her patron saint. Tula’s magnetic personal power affects those around her; she immediately becomes a spiritual guide to other Red Citrus residents, especially those who share her Mayan ancestry. Many feel that Tula herself is a saint.
Tula is befriended by Doc Ford’s close buddy Tomlinson, and both of them become involved in an effort to rescue her once Squires has stolen her away. The main plot describes this rescue effort, the menacing criminal underworld with which Squires is associated, the Hispanic immigrant communities in Southwest Florida (especially Immokalee), and a new romantic interest for Ford .
Doc Ford has to apply all his skills as a well-trained undercover agent and assassin to put down the bad guys and rescue Tula. Just how he does it – the technical details, the adrenalin firepower, and the ferocious imagery – is what keeps readers glued to Mr. White’s words.
In each of Doc Ford’s recent adventures, Randy Wayne White has portrayed a man who is increasingly thoughtful and increasingly self-aware. Also, Ford sensibilities are continually being broadened and deepened. These aspects of characterization complement the high-energy, literally explosive action that never misfires.
To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the February 16, 2011 issue of Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 17 issue of Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Randy Wayne White 2