Onyx reviews: Twelve Mile
Limit by Randy Wayne White
Four divers set out from western Florida to dive a deep-water wreck over
fifty miles offshore. When they fail to return, an extensive search begins,
covering hundreds of square miles of the Gulf of Mexico. Only one survivor is
found, a young woman spotted atop a light tower, naked, waving her colorful wet
suit to catch the attention of the search and rescue team.
She tells rescuers that their small boat rolled over shortly after they surfaced
from a dive. The four friends clung to the anchor line until it sank several
hours later. She became separated from her companions. No trace is of the others
is found—the search is eventually called off.
Among the missing is Janet Mueller, a friend and neighbor of marine biologist
Doc Ford, the hero of several previous books by Randy Wayne White. The survivor,
Amanda Gardner, seeks out Janet's friends to tell them her side of what
happened. In the days and weeks after the Seminole Wind sank, rumors spread that
the foursome were up to something illicit. Amanda wants Ford to help prove her
story. She also has a secret she hasn't told anyone else—she says another boat
appeared the night of the accident. She believes—or wants to believe—that
her friends are still alive somewhere.
But where? If the three divers were rescued by another boat, why are they still
missing? Ford reluctantly agrees to investigate the accident. Details at the
wreck scene support Amanda's portrayal of events, yet nothing explains the
complete disappearance of the other three people.
It's at this point that readers unfamiliar with Doc Ford come to realize that
he's more than a meek, mild biologist interested in octopi, crabs and manatees.
Ford has a past in government service that provides him with access to sensitive
and classified information. The transformation occurs so late in the book that
it comes as a bit of a surprise. When Ford takes on some unsavory characters
involved in Florida's illicit trade in drugs and illegal immigrants, Clark Kent
White crafts an exciting story, which, as the afterward explains, is based in
part on a real-life incident. A boat like the Seminole Wind did sink under
similar circumstances and three of the victims were never found. His accurate
depiction of the measures taken by the search and rescue crews is based on the
real incident. His explanation of what happens to swimmers stranded in water for
days on end, what they experience, how tides can affect them, are also based on
his own research.
From a tale of marine disaster, Twelve Mile Limit transforms into a Robert
Ludlum novel. Ford and Amanda Gardner go to Columbia to track down leads
provided via Ford's government contacts. He's armed to the teeth with high-tech
gadgetry and the expertise to use it. Ford ends up in remote, lawless regions of
the South American country, fighting for his life against drug traffickers,
revolutionaries, cannibalistic natives who carry out the age-old tradition of
shrinking the heads of their enemies, and mercenaries who are paid for each head
they can deliver.
Ford is a captivating character, a worthy successor to John D. MacDonald's
Travis McGee. The secondary characters are colorful and motivated. White's habit
of leaping forward in the story—only to explain how he got there a page or two
later—effectively builds suspense. White fills idle moments with interesting
tidbits of social commentary without becoming overly preachy. While not as
famous as other Florida writers, White has a solid and growing audience.
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