Sanibel Flats (1990) by Randy Wayne White – M.D. “Doc” White, 36 years old, has returned home to Sanibel Island on the Florida Gulf Coast after serving in a secretive U.S. government agency in the fictional Central American country of Masagua (a thinly disguised Nicaragua).
Trained as a marine biologist he buys a stilt house and sets up a pen in the ocean next to his home for some large bull sharks. To earn income he is dissecting small bull sharks and shipping them to schools to be studied.
High school classmate and fellow
veteran, Rafe Hollins, contacts him. After the break up of a bad marriage Hollins lost custody of his son when his wife began an affair with the judge. Taking his 8 year old son Hollins, a pilot, becomes involved in some shady transport from Masagua. He swears he was not flying drugs. He is seeking Doc’s help as he has stolen from his Masaguan suppliers and they have kidnapped his son. Before Doc can work out a plan he finds Hollins dead on an island hideout. Vietnam
The authorities at Sandy Key who have authority over Hollins death have no interest in an investigation and swiftly determine it was a suicide.
Back at Sanibel, Doc is being wooed by Jessica McLure, a lovely neighbour, who is a painter. It is Jessica who wants to turn the friendship intimate.
Doc has strong morals in business but his relationships with women are hardly honourable. His attitude helps keep him from being perfect but it is certainly chauvinistic.
It is not hard to figure out what Doc will do about his friend’s son being held captive but how it takes place is both clever and chilling.
One of the reasons the quest is interesting is Doc being joined by Tomlinson, an eccentric ocean neighbour with a Ph.D. from Harvard, whose life has been on a meandering course because of his affection for recreational pharmaceuticals.
I was struck by similarities between Doc and Travis McGee. Both are big articulate men. They are veterans who fought in the
and Korean Wars respectively. Each lives on the Vietnam coast in the ocean – Doc in the house on stilts and Travis in his famous houseboat. Each has a stern moral code. Neither has serious long term relationships with women. Florida
They have comparable attitudes a generation apart on the development of
. Each condemns the relentless urbanization of the Florida coastal areas. They disdain the driving habits of the crowds upon the highways of the state. Florida
The book has some philosophy and deft dialogue that also brought to mind John D. Macdonald. An example is Tomlinson’s reflection on danger:
“You know what I think about danger? I think if you’re walking on thin ice anyway, why not dance?”
There is a brisk pace to the book. I understand why the series is popular. There are interesting characters. Doc fits well into the classic American loner in pursuit of justice.
One of the early books in the series I want to read another before reaching conclusions about the series. It is entertaining thriller fiction. I expect I would have enjoyed it even more had I been able to go read it on the beach after buying it at the Murder on the Beach bookstore. (Mar. 21/12)