Haunted, by Randy Wayne White. Putnam. 352 pages. Hardcover $26.95.
This novel, the third in the Hannah Smith series, contains some of Mr. White’s best writing ever. He has deepened Hannah’s character, addressing her demons, passions, intelligence, and moral fiber in ways both compelling and profound. He has painted the area around Florida’s Caloosahatchee River with artistic brilliance, often using the darkest pigments on his palette. He has collected a gallery of grotesques – human and near-human – that will make your blood curdle. He has once again dangled a bit of local history, this time Civil War era, to complicate while enhancing our understanding of the present action, layering its impact and meaning.
This time out, we meet Hannah assisting the aunt of her good friend, Deputy Sheriff Birdy Tupplemeyer. The aunt, Bunnie Tupplemeyer, is a manipulative Palm Beach widow with a problem. She is part of an investment group that had purchased just over six hundred acres of land on the north side of the Caloosahatche River between Arcadia and Labelle. Now she wants to get out of her part of the deal. What she has discovered about the history of the property is unsettling. So is its intended use as a condo development. Her lawyer believes that the seller had broken a disclosure law and that Bunnie can use that infraction to recoup her investment.
Hannah’s job is to explore the property, which includes an historic home named Cadence Place, and strengthen Bunnie’s case. A history buff whose family has long roots in the region, expert fishing guide and part-time detective Hannah is excited about this unexpected assignment – it’s not her usual case. What she discovers, however, is a nightmare of twisted minds and destructive obsession.
Has this place been poisoned by terrible things that have happened there?
Briefly, Hannah and Birdy make the decaying old mansion their base of operations. Before long, they are frightened out of their wits by strange sounds of all kinds. They are assaulted, or at least feel threatened, by scorpions, snakes, and various other critters. Though an experienced outdoorswoman, Hannah has difficulties with the dark spookiness of the place. Is the ghost of the beautiful Irene Cadence still restlessly haunting her home? Is that the wind . . . or Irene’s scream?
Then there are the devilish humans. First among these is Dr. Theo Ivanoff, a youngish man purporting to be an assistant professor with expertise in Civil War history. The first impression, that he’s “a tad strange,” turns into something much worse when the true madness and cruelty of this individual is revealed. Ivanoff is soon a threat, assisted by a seeming half-wit named Carmelo and a strange breed of chimpanzees – a couple with something very close to human intelligence, enormous strength and cunning, and ferocious loyalty to their master. There is also a witchy woman named Lucia and a hidden population of frightening, if not altogether dangerous, characters. . . .
To read the entire review, as it appears in the August 13, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 14 Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, and Naples editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Haunted.