“Seduced” by Randy Wayne White; Putnam (352 pages, $27)
Randy Wayne White’s series about Marion “Doc” Ford is known for rip-roaring action while the Gulf Coast author takes a quieter route in his novels about Hannah Smith, a Gulf Coast fishing guide and private detective.
Quieter, yes, but Hannah, making her fourth appearance in “Seduced,” knows how to take care of herself, being one of the few women guides to take clients through the myriad isolated waterways near Sanibel and Captiva islands.
White’s fascination with Florida’s ecology and history – a bedrock of the Ford novels – also imbues “Seduced,” which, despite a weak opening, quickly evolves into a solid story about Hannah’s personal growth.
At the beginning of “Seduced,” Hannah is asked to help move the body of 80-year-old Harney Chatham, a former Florida lieutenant governor who dies in the bed of Hannah’s mother, Loretta, with whom he’d been having an affair for decades. Harney’s chauffeur, Reggie, insists they transport him to the Chatham property so there won’t be a scandal. Right there, it’s a bad idea. Moving a dead body has been the stuff of cliched sitcoms, a couple of bad movies and at least one “Law & Order” episode.
The move goes fairly well until Hannah has a run-in with Lonnie, Harney’s volatile widow. The plot jump-starts when Hannah meets Kermit Bigalow, a handsome grove manager concerned about blight that has been destroying the Chathams’ orange trees. Hannah has been having the same problem with most of her modest grove, except for those trees that were planted by her ancestors more than 100 years ago.
The solution to the citrus problem may be the ancient orange trees that could have disease-resistant fruit. Hannah knows that some of those trees may be growing in a remote, overgrown mangrove aptly called Choking Creek.
The search for ancient orange seeds may not seem the stuff of an exciting mystery, but White quickly amps up the stakes, making this a strong plot point. Those seeds and the research into their use may be worth millions, maybe billions. And that kind of money brings out the ruthlessness in people.
“Seduced” vividly showcases Florida’s often rough beauty as White takes his characters along the Gulf Coast waterways and inside nests of mangroves. White finds the most remote areas that many Floridians may not know exist, such as three tidal rivers near Marco Island. He also depicts several heart-stopping scenes with giant pythons, a major problem as they are destroying Florida’s native animals.
While Ford makes a small appearance during a phone call with Hannah, White wisely keeps him away from “Seduced.” The marine biologist who doubles as a government agent is off on some mysterious trip that we, no doubt, will hear all about in the next Ford novel.