“Salt River: A Doc Ford Novel” by Randy Wayne White; © 2020, Putnam; 368 pages
You just spit in a tube.
That’s what you do when you have your DNA sequenced: spit, cap it tight, ship it off, and wait. A few weeks later, you’ll know where your ancestors lived. You’ll have an explanation for your red hair or long fingers. You’ll see the world differently. Or, as in the new novel “Salt River” by Randy Wayne White, you’ll open a world of trouble.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Twenty-odd years ago, back when Tomlinson was a hungry young man, he seized upon what he thought was an easy way to make a buck: he donated to a for-profit sperm bank. Now that youthful decision had come back to haunt him, in the form of several adult children he never knew he had — each one hoping to meet their biological father.
There were, as Tomlinson’s best friend Marion “Doc” Ford pointed out, downsides to genetic testing.
The biggest one was that Tomlinson was find-able and one of his children, Delia, had come to Sanibel Island, asking questions.
She was smart, as Ford could tell, but she was nosing around in the wrong place for answers that she might never get. What’s worse: she practically led her half-siblings to Tomlinson’s door, and to Sanibel, where it was easy to get into trouble if you weren’t careful enough.
Doc Ford knew all about that, too.
It hadn’t been long since he’d returned to Sanibel from the Bahamas, where Jimmy Jones, a “shrewd operator,” had hidden millions of dollars in shipwrecked gold that the government, divers, and archaeologists all wanted to find. Ford didn’t know where Jimmy was or whether he was even alive, but he knew where the gold was stashed. Some of it, in fact, was hidden in a buoy beneath Ford’s houseboat — a little secret that he hoped the thieves who’d kill for it would never learn …
So, here’s the thing: “Salt River” is a thriller-not-thriller.
It’s clever, times two. Author Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford spins a double scam in this story and it’s a plot line readers (and fans!) will love because it’s … well, no spoilers here. It’s good because Tomlinson has a large part in this book and he’s a generally likable guy. This book sews up a seam that ripped in past books — don’t worry, you’ll catch up quick enough, if you’re not a regular Ford-novel reader — and it leaves another tear in a different spot that’s made for more Ford.
But thrilling? Not so much. There’s action in “Salt River,” but it’s not a leap-out-of-your-seat kind of thrill; it’s more like a sink-in-your-chair-and-enjoy kind of novel with enough high-tide danger, intrigue, and action to keep you reading. With guns and sharks but little-to-no profanity or sexplicit scenes, you could almost call it Heart-Pounding Lite.
For readers who like mile-a-minute novels but want something just a tad gentler for once, this one’s what you need to find. Of course, mystery-thrillers are what you love, and “Salt River” is the spittin’ image.