cover image The Mangrove Coast

The Mangrove Coast

Randy Wayne White. Putnam Publishing Group, $22.95 (290pp) ISBN 978-0-399-14372-4

An awkward plot mars the latest entry (after North of Havana, 1997) in White's widely appealing Gulf coast of Florida series starring Doc Ford, marine biologist, former spook and reluctant detective. In the first chapter, Ford finds the body of Frank Calloway on the kitchen floor of the real estate baron's beach house. Eleven chapters later, readers return to Calloway's house to follow Ford, who decides that he'll look for the folder he'd come to see before he calls the police. The intervening chapters explain that Calloway had married--and later divorced--Gail Richardson, the widow of Ford's best friend, Bobby, who had been killed in Cambodia doing top-secret dirty work 20 years earlier. Gail and Bobby's daughter Amanda has asked Ford to find Gail, who is somewhere in South America with a man named Jackie Merlot. Ford learns that Merlot, a gross and depraved villain, has conned Gail into joining him in a rank business venture in the Canal Zone. Merlot is an arresting figure, but most of the action involving him happens so far offstage that his menace is largely wasted. And White's extended flashbacks are filled with pretentious ponderings about the human condition. From a writer whose work is usually marked by tight construction and wry dialogue, this fizzy tale is a misfire. Editor, Neil Nyren; agent Renee Wayne Golden. (Oct.)