Families come forward in Randy Wayne White’s latest Doc Ford book

In ‘Salt River,’ the 26th book in the series, Doc Ford has a new son, and Tomlinson discovers he’s a father many times over. | Review
Randy Wayne White's new novel is "Salt River."
Randy Wayne White's new novel is "Salt River." [ Courtesy of Brian Tietz ]
Published Feb. 6, 2020

Some folks sow more wild oats than others.

Fans of Randy Wayne White’s series of addictive novels about Sanibel biologist-secret agent Doc Ford will not be surprised that Doc’s best pal, Zen boat bum Tomlinson, was one of those sowers.

Among his many adventures, back in the day Tomlinson was an avid donor to a fertility clinic (thanks to an attractive and helpful nurse). As Ford says, “Forty-some donations in less than a month? If it’s not a sin, it should be a felony.”

In White’s new novel, Salt River, all those fertilized eggs are coming home to roost, thanks to the craze for DNA testing. Tomlinson is suddenly hearing from a clutch of adult offspring he never knew he had — and not all of them are happy with him.

This is White’s 26th novel about Ford, whose day job as a marine biologist is a deflection from his deep-cover work for an unnamed intelligence agency. In several recent books, Ford has circled around the Caribbean, from Cuba to the Bahamas, but Salt River stays mostly in his home territory around Sanibel.

The first of Tomlinson’s surprise progeny to show up at Dinkin’s Bay Marina is a young woman named Delia, an Eckerd College grad who sails her own boat down from St. Petersburg. She has mixed feelings about finding out Tomlinson is her biological father, as do some of the others who get in touch, ranging from a Baptist preacher to a practitioner of holistic medicine. Tomlinson is ready to host a reunion of sorts, even though the half-siblings have never met each other or him.

But when another young stranger shows up stowed away on Tomlinson’s sailboat, things get ugly.

Ford, meanwhile, has his own wild oats to consider. He, too, has a couple of adult children, but they’re from previous romances, and he knows them, in distant fashion. Now, though, he has a baby son, thanks to his fraught relationship with fishing guide Hannah Smith. Ford is earnestly trying to be a good parent to little Izaak, but Hannah has just broken up with him and taken up with a stranger.

Another recent escapade is bringing aftershocks. In the last book, Caribbean Rim, Ford got involved in a race to discover loot hidden by a treasure hunter and con man named Jimmy Jones, who died in prison. Jones’ hiding places were ingenious, but Ford now has several million dollars’ worth of gold stashed near his stilt house. When a mysterious couple on a motorcycle plant a GPS device on his pickup, and a rogue IRS agent shows up trying to blackmail him, it doesn’t seem like coincidence.

Related: Review: Doc Ford chases pirates historical and modern in Randy Wayne White's 'Caribbean Rim'

Amid the chases and mayhem — some of which occurs in a houseboat off Egmont Key — Salt River offers readers an unusual peek into Ford’s past and how he became involved in his clandestine line of work. When Ford was 19, an agent plucked him out of Navy basic training with an offer of highly specialized and secret education. “I’m not a genius or a gifted athlete,” he tells us. “As I discovered later, ‘candidates of special interest’ shared one key asset — our parents were either dead or estranged and we had no close family ties. ... Highly trained and expendable. That was us. And if the worst happened, there were no adoring folks back home to raise a stink or go running to their congressman.”

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Along with young Izaak and Tomlinson’s brood, that may be a reason family is on Ford’s mind.

Kids seem to be on his creator’s mind, too. As local fans might know, White will be opening a Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille at the shiny new St. Petersburg Pier soon; at about the same time, he’ll debut a new book series. Coming in March is Fins, his first Sharks Incorporated book. Written for readers ages 8 to 12, the book is about three youngsters, a boy from the Midwest and two sisters from Cuba, who go to work for — who else? — Doc Ford.

Salt River

By Randy Wayne White

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 368 pages, $27

Meet the author

Randy Wayne White will sign his latest book at 7 p.m. Feb. 12, Barnes & Noble Sarasota, 4010 S Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 923-9907; and at 3 p.m. Feb. 13 at Haslam’s Book Store, 2025 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, (727)822-8616.