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Florida Fancy // Gulf coast weirdness

CAPTIVA

By Randy Wayne White

Putnam, $21.95

Reviewed by Robin Mitchell

For all I know, Randy Wayne White didn't make up any of this.

Setting his Doc Ford mystery series on Florida's West Coast (Sanibel Flats, The Heat Islands and The Man Who Invented Florida), he doesn't need to. He just slowly and skillfully stirs into his novels the ingredients that are Florida. Then, regenerating the energies of Cannery Row and the Travis McGee adventures, he throws in just enough weirdness to make perfect sense to anyone who made it through the '70s.

White's latest Doc Ford novel centers around tiny Sulphur Wells, a fishing community as yet unfettered by the development that forever has altered Florida's West Coast. It jump-starts with a bomb explosion in the heart of a discussion about space creatures and never runs out of fuel, let alone sputters, through a shadowy world that may just be out there.

A former fishing guide who lives in Fort Myers, White weaves his delightfully surprising, twisted, violent and, at times, funny tale around what happened _ and what might be happening _ as a result of last year's banning of gill-net fishing. With their nets gone, so go the fishermen. And so go their marinas, perfect now for real estate development. Doc Ford, a marine biologist who, in an earlier life, was a government agent (but that's another story) takes a not unsurprising stand on the ban.

Captiva is a fast read. There are drugs and sex, Gurkhas (you gotta love writers who successfully weave Gurkhas into the story line), visions (enough to have you gasping, "Has he gone bonkers?") and revenge.

Florida just might be like that.

Robin Mitchell is a Times staff writer.

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