Bone Deep, by Randy Wayne White. Putnam. 384 pages. $26.95.
Readers are lucky that in the imaginary world in which Mr. White’s Doc Ford lives, trouble will seek Doc out. Sometimes it’s as simple and predictable as having his old buddy, Tomlinson, ask a favor for a friend. Hey, can you help my friend get back some antiquarian carvings that help define his family’s Native American heritage?
Sure, why not?
And before long we are in the word of phosphate mining, possible water pollution, a Central Florida elephant preserve, a lunatic biker improbably named Quirk who has a metal tool kit in place of a hand, and an underworld of nutty grifters hooked on fossils and lost (or hidden) treasures from centuries gone by.
Some are seeking art, artifacts, and history; others are only seeking the money that rarities can bring. Some try to feed their greed within the law; others just don’t want to get caught. And still others will murder. All these seekers are gamblers, addicted to risk and, in some cases, vulnerable to the whims of their creditors.
What is quite astounding in this tension-packed novel is how much scientific and cultural information the author transmits without getting bogged down in stiff, pedantic exposition.
Natural history is the broad background of knowledge, particularly the natural history of the Florida peninsula and the layers of its geography and geology. Readers get to tour fossil and bone fields, explore the shifting balance of water and terra firma over the eons, and the shifting fortunes of indigenous tribes and colonial entrepreneurs who lived, died and left their secrets behind to be the fools’ gold of the future.
“Bone Deep” has a large cast of compelling and repulsive characters, their destinies interwoven in the compact present of a sharply drawn plot. These include the Tomlinson friend, Duncan “Dunk” Fallsdown, the Crow from Montana on the trail of artifacts stolen from tribal lands. Part shaman and part sham, Dunk is at once irritating and ingratiating. Like Tomlinson, he is a test of Doc Ford’s patience – only as honest as he needs to be.
Then there is Leland Albright, present day head of a declining phosphate-based business empire who offers Doc a job analyzing the water quality of three lakes in the family’s fossil-filled quarries. Mr. White sets his portrait of tall, gangly, withdrawn Leland into a generational history that becomes a prototype for the rise and fall of family fortunes. Mammoth Ridge Mines was started and built up by Leland’s grandfather and mismanaged by the next generation. On Leland’s watch it will either recover or be forever lost. And things aren’t going well. . . .
To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the March 12, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 13 Bonita Springs, Naples, and Charlotte County editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Bone Deep