“Dead Silence,” by Randy Wayne White; G.P. Putnam’s Sons; 354 pages, $25.95

Doc Ford is in his 50s now, no longer the young man we first met 16 books ago in “Sanibel Flats” (1990). But he can still swim long distances and do a prodigious number of pull-ups. He’s as lethal as ever with a gun, or nothing at all, in his hands. And he still has an easily aroused sense of vigilante justice.

So when a hulking serial rapist who ran up against Doc in a previous book is released from a Florida prison on a technicality, Doc dispatches him with all the passion of a man snuffing out a cigarette. Then he calmly catches a commercial flight to New York for a date with an attractive U.S. senator. All that happens by page 2.

By page 18, Doc has foiled a professional attempt to snatch the senator off a Manhattan sidewalk, been dragged down the street by a fleeing limousine and chased down one of the kidnappers in Central Park. From there, the action accelerates and rarely lets up.

As longtime fans of the series know, Doc is by all appearances a marine biologist who collects specimens and conducts research in his waterfront lab on Florida’s Sanibel Island. But in his youth, he was a black ops assassin, and in each book he is called upon to use his old skills, sometimes to help a friend and sometimes at the behest of a clandestine intelligence service.

This time, it’s to save the life of Will Chaser, a Native American lad from Minnesota.

Will is no ordinary boy. At 13, he’s already a rodeo rider, a horse thief, a burglar and the winner of a national essay contest, which he won by seducing his teacher and then blackmailing her into writing the essay for him. His prize is a trip to New York, where he is to be squired around by a senator. That puts Will in the wrong place at the wrong time. So when the kidnappers fail to grab the senator, they snatch Will instead.

The boy, courageous and defiant, proves more of a handful than his kidnappers could ever have anticipated. He’s also a great character, stealing the book from Doc as surely as Jennifer Hudson stole “Dream Girls” from Beyonce.

The kidnappers don’t want money. Instead, they demand two specific cartons that are among several tons of documents and booty the U.S. government has secretly seized from Fidel Castro’s private estate on an island off the coast of Cuba.

As is often the case with Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford novels, the plot is tangled and wildly unlikely. This time, the story manages to involve the death of Castro (who is still very much with us), the Skull & Bones Society, the unmasking of a traitor, the Freemasons, a power drill as an instrument of torture, the Bay of Pigs invasion, a paraplegic former professional wrestler, the solution to a the decades-old murder in the Hamptons, gruesome medical experiments and Geronimo’s skull – to name just a few elements.

But if you can suspend disbelief, the crisply written story is well worth the ride.

In the final chapter, when Doc finally has a moment to catch his breath, he muses on the nature of friendship:

“Friends can occupy the same room without robbing the space of solitude. They appreciate the difference between conversation and pointless noise. They don’t snipe and bitch about other friends. They do their share of mundane tasks without prompting. They seldom whine, are secure in their own purpose and don’t anchor themselves to an energy-sapping cloud of defeat and ready-made excuses when a challenging project presents itself.”

To longtime fans of the series, Doc Ford is that kind of a friend.


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