cover image Ten Thousand Islands

Ten Thousand Islands

Randy Wayne White. Putnam Adult, $23.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-399-14620-6

Of all the writers currently exploiting the Florida mayhem boom, only White can claim to have created a series hero, marine biologist Marion ""Doc"" Ford, to match Hemingway's memorable outdoorsmen and John D. MacDonald's much-missed Travis McGee. Some of the Ford books have been unfocused, but White's seventh (after 1998's The Mangrove Coast) is one of the strongest, rich with not only evocative images (""I spooked a school of redfish that angled away as a herd, pushing an acre of waking water"") but also with an unusually deep cast of characters. Ford himself is in top form, quickly convincing readers that he cares as much about his real job (capturing snook for a lab working to improve the breed) as he does about solving a mysteryDin this case, why the grave of a 15-year-old girl who had an uncanny ability to find things has been desecrated. Somebody is after a 400-year-old gold medallion that she unearthed, a relic of the Calusa Indians. Besides Ford's scene-stealing druggy sidekick, Tomlinson, there are some very interesting female characters: the dead girl herself, with whom Ford turns out to have a strange connection; her gutsy mother, a tough waitress working to keep her daughter's memory alive and unsullied; a young archeologist and an older local woman who take Ford's mind off his former lover. Even the obvious villains, a wealthy and politically powerful father-and-son team, are saved from being clich s by some original touches. But the real star is the seascape of Florida, something that FordDand WhiteDknow intimately. National tour. (June)