A storm is coming.
You feel it in the air, and you can smell it as thunder grumbles in the distance. It was in the forecast, it was on today’s radar, but in the new novel “Mangrove Lightning” by Randy Wayne White (c.2017, Putnam, $27, 329 pages), it’s been coming for generations.
Gracie Barlow had never seen a bigger woman.
Strong as two men, she was, with a head like a pumpkin, a horrid odor, and a powerful slap, the woman was terrifying. And yet — Gracie knew that “Mr. Bird” was worse: on his orders, the seventeen-year-old had been chained, naked and choking, to a wall inside a bricked-up cubicle.
For sure, Gracie’s boyfriend was dead.
Just after a fight with her mother and Gracie stomped out of the house, there was Slaten. It was destiny, and she was in love; he told her wonderful things and gave her amazing drugs. He was older, an artist, and it was his idea to go to Chino Hole in search of bamboo that he said was the best in Florida for tattooing. And then he was caught by that woman, and so was Gracie.
Gracie knew Slaten was dead.
She knew she was next.
Known around Florida for his fishing knowledge, retired guide Tootsie Barlow was afraid. His family, he believed, had been cursed since 1925, due to their involvement in the Marco Island War, which pitted neighbor against neighbor and ended in the disappearance of a deputy and his family, possibly to the bottom of Chino Hole. Having recently lost two of his kin to suspicious accidents, Tootsie asked biologist-cum-detective Doc Ford to find the truth: was it a curse or just plain bad luck?
Because Ford was embroiled in the resolution of a British blackmail scheme, his friend, Tomlinson, stepped in to see what could be learned. Surely, there was something going on near Chino Hole: Tomlinson felt the area roil with evil – which he could’ve attributed to weed, until he saw a massive woman…
Gone are the days when Doc Ford was just a marine biologist who happened to solve mysteries in his beloved Florida . Gone is the perpetually-under-the-influence sidekick who thrives off the grid. No, the new Ford is more James Bond-ish, with access to über-high-tech equipment, alibis, and rich women, while the new Tomlinson is a man of responsibility – neither of which make “Mangrove Lightning” any lesser but that do make it very different.
Indeed, author Randy Wayne White seems also to be edging this novel into the paranormal, in a story based loosely on historical events that make a great tale even without the presence of eerie voices and maniacal killers. The addition of those two facets serves to stir up this novel, though, sometimes to the point of silly and other times to heart-pounding.
Even so, I don’t believe I’d take this book to bed. It’s exciting and creepy enough to cause bad dreams because this ain’t your mother’s cozy mystery. Remember that, as you’re reading “Mangrove Lightning,” or things could get a little stormy.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.