Tag Archives: SW Florida

Local Color Illuminates an Intriguing Tale of Obstacles Faced and Overcome

Cayo Costa Cross, by John D. Mills. Pono Publishing. 217 pages. Paperback $9.99.

This is an utterly charming novel that also has grit, strong insights into human nature, and plenty of regional detail for readers who will enjoy the SW Florida setting, Mr. Mills builds upon his many years of legal experience to draw readers into the world of a marriage gone wrong and its possible resolution. He also laces the story with local history and builds part of its premise from that history.

Though set primarily in the present time, the story begins at the outset of the 20th century with a family secret. Readers learn of an anguished man, Jim McKenzie, who desperately needed money to afford a cure for his daughter’s tuberculosis. He steals a gold cross which he intends to turn into the cash that he needs. However, things don’t go well and he ends up burying the artifact on the island of Cayo Costa. He writes a detailed letter to his wife Claire that describes the location of the cross, and that letter eventually finds its way into the hands of is distant relative, Lynn Chapman. However, the cross remains hidden. 

Lynn’s greedy, conniving husband Bobby is about to face her in court if a mediation is not successful. He has convinced himself that he has the right to profit from Lynn’s potential inheritance, and he has taken some steps recover it.

The mediation does not go well, in large part because of Bobby’s nasty, self-aggrandizing personality. However, this section of the novel is fascinating in outlining how the legal system works. Readers meet several interesting characters including Lynn’s lawyer Beth Mancini; Beth’s boyfriend Frank Powers, who is a prosecutor with the State Attorney’s Office; and Michelle Barnes, the official mediator for the Chapmans’ case. Through these characters and many others in the course of the novel, legal abstractions become clear and personalized.

Bobby Chapman does have some potentially useful talents. He has the technological skills imagination that enable him to invent a way to possibly retrieve the long-hidden gold cross hidden on Cayo Costa island.

Bobby’s approach includes burning the vegetation on the island to the ground to help uncover the cross’s hiding place and, later, employing a drone and explosives to threaten his wife and her new paramour from discovering it first. Bobby is filled with hate, and the author’s portrait of his childhood and upbringing brings understanding about what makes him tick. He is shaped by an unappealing macho / good old boy culture.

John D. Mills

The man making romantic inroads on Lynn’s heart is Doug Shearer. When Lynn decides that she needs to employ a private detective to find the cross before Bobby does, Beth recommends Doug for the job. It’s a fortuitous match of personalities. Doug has a background in law enforcement. He is one of several characters through whom Mr. Mills paints a very positive and uplifting picture of people with law enforcement careers.

John Mills uses his descriptive skills to provide a wide range of characters, the flavor of the Lee County fishing and boating community, and many other touches of local color. The author offers a good introduction to the islands that dot the waterways. Readers will enjoy the growing relationship between Lynn and Doug. This reader wouldn’t mind meeting them again in another novel.

About the author:

John D. Mills is a fifth generation native of Fort Myers. He grew up fishing the waters of Pine Island Sound, and it’s still his favorite hobby. He graduated from Mercer University in Macon, Georgia with a BBA in Finance and worked for Lee County Bank in Ft. Myers for five months. He returned to Macon and graduated from Mercer’s law school in 1989. He started his legal career as a prosecutor for the State Attorney’s Office in Fort Myers. In 1990, he began his private practice concentrating in divorce and criminal defense. Cayo Costa Cross is his eighth novel. This novel, and several other recent ones, comprise the Pine Island Sound Mystery sequence. The related books include: “The Trophy Wife Divorce,” “The Hooker, the Dancer, and the Nun,” and “Pine Island Gold.”


Q & A Interview with John D. Mills

Q: What is your favorite part of the writing process?  A:   Crafting a surprise ending!  I’m an avid reader and I always enjoy an unexpected twist/surprise at the end of a book.  I spend a tremendous amount of time trying to do this in my books.

Q: What writing challenges give you the most trouble?  A:  When I’m trying to do a compelling back story on my characters.  I don’t like anyone to call my characters boring or predictable!

Q: Do you compose by parts or by wholes?  A:  I try to do a basic outline of the story before I begin writing.  After the outline is done, I break it into pieces – sort of like a jigsaw puzzle.  Of course, during the 2nd & 3rd drafts of the book, I add a little more information about the characters and subplots that I try to bring together at the end.

Q: What are your habits of revision?  A:   I have learned to pay all different kinds of people to help me edit different drafts of the book.  Young, old, middle-aged, book-smart educated, self-taught educated, religious, non-religious, superstitious, OCD, and people with different backgrounds than me.  I have learned that different people see things that are confusing to them, and they relate to character conflicts in unique ways.  I’m always amazed at the different responses I get from my editors.  As a follow-up, I hire different editors for the second and third drafts to try t0 create an entertaining read.

Q: Are there common skills that connect your work as a novelist with your work as a lawyer?  A:  Different people have their own “versions” of the truth and I try to have my characters promote their own “version” of the truth to create conflict between the characters.  Q: Are there any features of your experience as a fisherman that overlap with your fiction writing?  A: Patience!

Q: Who are among your favorite writers?  A:  John Grisham, John D. McDonald, and Randy Wayne White.

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A cruel past threatens to wreak havoc on an uncertain present

Mangrove Lightning, by Randy Wayne White. Putnam. 352 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

Though many of Mr. White’s earlier entries in his Doc Ford mystery series have generated fear, not one has been as persistently scary as “Mangrove Lightning.” It’s an odd brew of local history, unnatural quirks in the natural world, grotesque legends, and even more grotesque characters. It is fed by events on different timelines that come into focus and then dissolve.  

Much of the plot revolves around the past and present doings of two families: the Barlows and the Lambeths. The Lambeths are a mysterious and evil-tainted tribe given to all kinds of perversions and crimes. Members of this weird family are huge physical specimens. The enjoy cruel satisfactions and a wide range of narcotics. Their human prey often disappears, perhaps boiled down to bones and chemicals. They have some connection to Chinese slaves. The Lambeths are not to be crossed. The influence of Walter Lambeth permeates his descendants, who seem to live under a spell.

Those who stumble into Lambeth country in the backwaters of SW Florida may not get out. They will be haunted by strange voices that repeat bloodcurdling threats. Doc Ford and his buddy Tomlinson find themselves among those who have to deal with the present generation of Lambeths, in whom cunning and madness coexist.

White – photo by Wendy Webb

The Barlows are represented by a premier and legendary fishing captain nicknamed Tootsie. Plenty of bad news in that family, but Tootsie is revered. His rebellious teenage niece Gracie is missing, and both Tomlinson and Doc are involved in trying to find and, if necessary, rescue her. Indeed, Gracie is only the latest member of Tootsie’s family to have been sought out to pay the price for some terrible doings that occurred in the mid-1920s. It seems as if a dark family feud is being played out. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the March 22, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 23 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Mangrove Lightning




MARCO ISLAND, FL / Saturday, March 25 at 2:00 PM

Sunshine Booksellers, 677 S. Collier Blvd


FORT MYERS, FL / Saturday, March 25 at 7:00 PM

Barnes & Noble #2711, 13751 Tamiami Trail


SARASOTA, FL / Sunday, March 26 at 12:00 PM

Bookstore1, 12 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota, FL 34236


DELRAY BEACH, FL / Wednesday, March 29 at 7:00 PM

Murder on the Beach, 273 NE 2nd Ave.


CAPTIVA, FL / Friday, March 31 from 12:00 PM – 3:00 PM

Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, 5400 S Seas Plantation Rd


FORT MYERS BEACH, FL / Monday, April 3 from 11:30 AM – 3:00 PM

Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, 708 Fishermans Wharf


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Science is sexy in scintillating Hannah Smith thriller

Seduced, by Randy Wayne White. Putnam. 352 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

Pythons, orange trees of ancient stock, infidelity, madness, and greed. Is that all there is? Well, no. There is Mr. White’s gloriously complicated, totally unglamorous, and fiercely independent Hannah Smith.  seducedjacket

As in much of RWW’s previous work, Florida’s history and natural assets are much in evidence, as is the author’s interest in saving what’s left of the indigenous wildlife and ecosystem. In many of his novels, Mr. White makes science interesting, and “Seduced” is no exception. The extended, plausibly introduced discussions on how orange trees propagate, along with the reasons for finding clones of the original 16th century stock brought by Spanish adventurers, are powerfully addictive.

DNA issues, patents on seed development processes, and the money to be made from disease-resistant strains of citrus take Hannah, her allies, and her adversaries to dangerous cypress swamps, islands that like much of Florida are now denuded of the indigenous animal population by the intrusions of ravenous giant pythons and other exotic predators. Hey, if you’re going to find the ur-orange trees you’re going to have to risk death by python.

True to form in the Randy Wayne White world, the predator most to be feared is the homo sapien.

White author photo by Wendy Webb

White author photo by Wendy Webb

From her cabin cruiser, Hannah sees some disturbance at her mom’s cracker house. Turns out stroke survivor Loretta’s been keeping up her affair with the former lieutenant governor of Florida, a wealthy old philanderer named Harney Chatham. Chatham seems to have died in the love-making, and now it seems wise to move the body in order to disguise the place of death.

This frantic exercise in saving already wounded reputations soon puts Hannah in the company of Reggie (the deceased’s loyal driver) and other Chatham employees.  Among them is Kermit Bigalow, the manager of the Chatham citrus groves – a sizeable enterprise threatened by plant disease.

Bigalow, in a failing marriage and with a young daughter, is quickly enamored with Hannah – and doesn’t hide his attraction. Hannah, off-guard, is first responsive to his advances, but then cools things off and sets limits. She and Bigalow share the interest in saving the threatened orange groves; Bigalow is particularly interested in the financial benefit of controlling breakthroughs in the cure. However, as widow Lonnie Chatham makes clear, she would own those discoveries made by him while in her employ.

Lonnie, a former cheerleader, has long tolerated Harney’s indiscretions (including his affair with Loretta). She is busy protecting her turf now that he’s passed away. She’s locked Kermit out of his job, and she’s worried about land Harney has willed to Hannah. Moreover, there is evidence to keep hidden that threatens her own rights to inheritance. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 19, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 20 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Seduced

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Penniman’s history rides out the storms over natural resource management

Nature’s Steward: A History of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, by Nick Penniman. Pineapple Press. 368 pages. Hardcover $24.95.

This is a book that should be in the library of every citizen and devotee of Southwest Florida. Each public and institutional library in the state should have several copies. Anyone interested in the interplay of environmental science, conservation advocacy, environmental education, and the politics surrounding natural resource protection and managed growth must read it.  PennimanCover

Is it easy reading? No. The issues at hand cannot be reduced to light fare. Yet “Nature’s Steward” is immensely engaging, charged by the author’s expertise, patient exposition, and passion for his subject. What makes reading it even more difficult is discovering how limited success has been over several generations. What makes it heartwarming is that matters could have turned out much worse, and that we are on the edge of accepting and acting sensibly on the hard truths that Mr. Penniman presents.

As Nick Penniman points out in various ways, effective policy making (let’s not yet thing about implementation) involves the constructive interaction of various levels of government, the activities of nonprofit groups like The Conservancy, the interests of community associations, the goals of residential and retail/commercial developers and investors, and the lifestyle/hobbyist voices (boaters, for example). You probably get the point already.

To make matters more complicated, the borders of cities, counties, and even specially defined regional planning districts hardly ever coincide with those of a natural system (a slough, watershed, you-name- it) that is threatened by development. Who makes the policy for what? In a way, everything in the natural environment is connected, but governmental jurisdictions only look inward – as do most special interest groups.



Private property rights are yet another interrelated factor.

In organizing his issues and sources (documentation), Nick Penniman found an effective tripartite plan: “Acquiring Land,” “Managing Growth,” and “Water.” Within these stages he orchestrates discussions of such topics – case studies, really – as “Big Cypress Swamp and the Fakahatachee Strand,” “Pelican Bay and Barefoot Beach” (contrasting studies in how to and how not to balance conflicting interests), and “Villages of Sabal Bay and Hamilton Harbor.” The discussions reveal how shifts in public and leadership opinion bring about cycles of advocacy, legislation, and enforcement at various policy-making and administrative/enforcement levels.

Throughout, Mr. Penniman keeps readers aware of the enormous responsibilities vested in the Army Corps of Engineers, an organization that often seems ill-equipped to meet those responsibilities. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 30, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 1 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here Florida Weekly – Penniman 1 and here Florida Weekly – Penniman 2.

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New White thriller uncovers Florida’s past and its coveted, buried riches

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. Bone_Deeplarge

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

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