Friday, May 25, 2018
Books

Review: Doc Ford stumbles onto caviar conspiracy in 'Chasing Midnight' by Randy Wayne White

don't you just hate it when you go to a fancy caviar party and a gunfight breaks out?

That's the plight of Marion "Doc" Ford as Chasing Midnight opens. This is Randy Wayne White's 19th novel about Ford, a marine biologist who plies his quiet trade out of a stilt house lab on a marina on Sanibel — and who has a second line of work as an often lethal agent for a U.S. intelligence agency so secret it can't be named.

Chasing Midnight doesn't actually begin with the gunfight but employs the "blow something up first and explain later" strategy that kicks a thriller off at top speed. Ford has ducked out of the party and slipped into his dive gear to get a closer look at the yacht belonging to the party's host and its cargo. He's under 15 feet of water "observing a dinosaurian fish" — a rare Gulf sturgeon — when a blast knocks him silly.

The blast, he soon discovers, has also knocked out all the power on Vanderbilt Island, the small private island off the Southwest Florida coast where the party is being held. That party, hosted by Russian black-market millionaire Viktor Kaslov, has a brief and unusual guest list: a handful of locals, including Ford and his friend Tomlinson, plus three men with extremely large and dubiously acquired fortunes: an Iranian called Armanie, a Turkmenian named Darius Talas and Lien Hai Bohai of China.

Kaslov, Armanie, Talas and Lien have a common interest: caviar. Beluga caviar, that is — the best and most difficult to acquire, at least legally, because the European sturgeon, the fish that produces it, is a critically endangered species. The four men aren't hungry gourmets but grand-scale poachers and smugglers who make some of their millions by selling the caviar — and pushing the fish ever closer to extinction.

Kaslov has arranged the party with his rivals ostensibly to entice them to invest in a new hybrid sturgeon, part beluga and part Gulf, that could be farmed in warmer climates than the hideously polluted Caspian Sea where the beluga is most commonly found. But that sounds (sorry) fishy to Ford, who has wangled his way into an invitation because he's intrigued both as a biologist and as an intelligence op.

That's why Tomlinson, who owns a couple of restaurants (rum bars in Sanibel and Fort Myers that will sound familiar to White's fans), is at the party — as Ford's ticket. Tomlinson has his own peculiar fish to fry, of course; the stoner Buddhist monk with the exuberant libido always dances to the beat of his own drum circle.

He didn't just get Ford into the party, it turns out; he's also the link that explains a group of crashers who are members of Third Planet Peace Force, a radical environmental organization. They've found out about the caviar conclave from Tomlinson's post on their website and muscled their way in despite the abundance of bodyguards on Vanderbilt Island.

Mix rival international gangsters and angry extremists and you get a volatile atmosphere — hence that blast, followed by gunplay. Add the two mysterious women in Lien's entourage, one a jaw-dropping beauty and the other a plain, sturdy type Ford feels an odd kinship with. Then stir in the Neinabor twins, Genesis and Exodus, raised in a desert commune and clearly the least stable members of Third Planet Peace Force. They used to be triplets until brother Abraham died — but he's still talking to them.

Ford discovers there may be a bigger bomb on the island, and that's only one of his problems. Chasing Midnight takes place in a breathless rush over the course of one night, and it's a fine example of White's trademark combination of detailed research — Ford gives us a short course in the caviar trade courtesy of his contacts at the Mote Marine Laboratory's sturgeon project in Sarasota — and high-octane action.

Ford also stays on the cutting edge of spyware, and the tech star he happens to be trying out in this book is something called the TAM-14, a thermal acquisition monocular — an eyepiece that allows its wearer to look right through walls and other cover to see people revealed by their body heat in remarkable detail.

It comes in mighty handy on a pitch-dark tropical island dotted with cottages on a violent night when no one's motives are clear, although it also reveals something so shocking about Tomlinson that even the titanium-tough Ford is shaken by it.

Chasing Midnight is a sleek and seductive fish tale — or is it? As Ford says, "one of the maxims of professionals who specialize in deceit (is) 'If you want to guard a secret, put it in a book.'"

Colette Bancroft can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435.

Comments
Review: Family matters in David Sedaris’ ‘Calypso’

Review: Family matters in David Sedaris’ ‘Calypso’

David Sedaris gets right to the point in the opening of the first essay in his new book, Calypso: "Though there’s an industry built on telling you otherwise, there are few real joys to middle age. The only perk I can see is that, with luck, you’ll ac...
Published: 05/24/18
Review: Strait-laced writer Michael Pollan explores psychedelics, and leaves the door of perception ajar

Review: Strait-laced writer Michael Pollan explores psychedelics, and leaves the door of perception ajar

Microdosing is hot. If you haven’t heard — but you probably have, from reports of its use at Silicon Valley workplaces, from Ayelet Waldman’s memoir A Really Good Day, from dozens of news stories — to microdose is to take small amounts of LSD, which ...
Published: 05/24/18
Bancroft: Philip Roth deftly explored male lust, Jewish identity, American history and politics

Bancroft: Philip Roth deftly explored male lust, Jewish identity, American history and politics

Philip Roth, one of the most potent voices in American fiction, died Tuesday night of congestive heart failure in a New York City hospital. He was 85.Mr. Roth was the last man standing of a generation of fiction writers sometimes called "the great wh...
Published: 05/23/18

Events: Tarbell.org founder Wendell Potter to discuss, sign book

Book TalkTarbell.org founder Wendell Potter (Nation on the Take: How Big Money Corrupts Our Democracy and What We Can Do About It) will discuss and sign his book at 4 p.m. May 23 at the St. Petersburg Main Library, 3745 Ninth Ave. N.Applications are ...
Published: 05/21/18
The real stuff is how Tom Wolfe best used his write stuff

The real stuff is how Tom Wolfe best used his write stuff

Tom Wolfe’s best writing lifted real people into legend: car designers and astronauts and disciples of LSD. With that writing, Wolfe lifted himself into legend as well. The author of 16 books, including such bestsellers as The Right Stuff and ...
Published: 05/18/18
Review: In Stephen King’s ‘The Outsider,’ evil can’t be true but must be true

Review: In Stephen King’s ‘The Outsider,’ evil can’t be true but must be true

On a July day, Terry Maitland, one of the most popular men in Flint City, Okla. — high school English teacher, Little League coach, husband and father, recently named the town’s man of the year — attends a teachers convention in a city over an hour’s...
Published: 05/17/18

Events: Gilbert King to discuss ‘Beneath a Ruthless Sun’ at Inkwood in Tampa

Book TalkCutter Wood (Love and Death in the Sunshine State: The Story of a Crime) will discuss and sign his nonfiction book about a murder on Anna Maria Island at 6 p.m. May 14 at Bookstore1, 12 S Palm Ave., Sarasota.The Gulfport Historical Society p...
Published: 05/11/18
Notable: As Mother’s Day nears, these new books are timely

Notable: As Mother’s Day nears, these new books are timely

NotableMore about mothersFor Mother’s Day, three new books offer a range of takes on motherhood.Beauty in the Broken Places: A Memoir of Love, Faith, and Resilience (Random House) by Allison Pataki is a memoir by a novelist whose 30-year-old husband ...
Published: 05/11/18
Review: A criminal’s confession is just the beginning in Michael Koryta’s compelling ‘How It Happened’

Review: A criminal’s confession is just the beginning in Michael Koryta’s compelling ‘How It Happened’

It’s what every investigator hopes for: a tough case finally solved when one of the criminals confesses, providing solid details and even describing where the bodies are buried.Or, in Michael Koryta’s compelling new psychological thriller How It Happ...
Updated one month ago
Anthony Award nominees include Tampa’s Michael Connelly, Down & Out Books

Anthony Award nominees include Tampa’s Michael Connelly, Down & Out Books

When the World Mystery Convention, a.k.a. Bouchercon, takes place in St. Petersburg in September and hands out its coveted Anthony Awards, the Tampa Bay Area will be well represented among the nominees.The award nominees, announced May 9, include Tam...
Published: 05/09/18
Updated: 05/10/18