Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Chasing Midnight - Randy Wayne White (Audio)

One thing I've noticed since I moved to Florida in 1991...there is an enormous sense of place and history down here.  It extends beyond the theme parks and the wackos (why do they all want to come here?) to the backwoods, the alligators, the Everglades, the water, the fishing, the Florida Keys.  

I soon learned that there is a sub-culture of Florida authors as well.  There are thousands of them, and they all seemed to speak a secret code amongst themselves, supporting each other's craft.  Many of them write what they know, and they know old Florida.  (By "old" I don't mean a long time ago necessarily, but the Florida that the tourists don't see.)  Carl Hiaasen, Zora Neale Hurston, Tim Dorsey, Michael Koryta, Connie May Fowler, and on and on it goes.  I crave stories of old Florida.

So when Penguin Audio sent me a copy of this audio, I perked up because I know that Randy Wayne White is one of them.  He actually was a fishing guide in Southern Florida for years until his marina went out of business, and started writing to pay the bills.  See, I think that is just cool.  He now has 17 books under his belt, many of them are a series that features Doc Ford, a retired NSA agent and marine biologist who always manages to rub elbows with bad guys.  (Side note:  White has a bar in Sanibel called Doc Ford's Sanibel Rum Bar & Grille, which is also very cool).  I was a little nervous about jumping into an established series, but I've done it before.

Synopsis:  Doc Ford and his sidekick Tomlinson (nature activist and hippy extraordinaire) have been invited to a reception on a private island off the coast of Florida.  The shindig is sponsored by a Russian who is a notorious black marketeer in the caviar business, and is attended by high-level mobsters and environmental types.  In the middle of the party, however, someone (environmental extremists-turned-terrorists?  thug competitors?) take over the island, jamming all communication, and threaten to start killing people unless their demands are met.  The deadline is midnight.

There is one advantage - the terrorists are unaware of Doc's skills and expertise.  Only he can straighten out this mess and prevent them all from being blown sky high.

My thoughts:   The loyal followers of all of the Doc Ford books are passionate about the series as a whole, particularly the earlier installments.  But since this was my first experience, I cannot attest to their strengths, and this one left me confused and overall disappointed.  While there was plenty of old Florida to love in the book, unfortunately there was little else.

With most series, if you pick them up mid-stream, the author usually gives you enough information to figure out your protagonists.  That was not the case here.  I had no clue about Doc's background, so I was focusing too much of my energy trying to figure out vague references to his past.  Was he dangerous?  Was he really a biologist or was it a cover?  There were also some references to past female relationships, but they only made cameo appearances and weren't developed.  On the whole, I felt lost and left out of the loop.

The crimes, and antagonists, and the action was jerky, manic, stereotypical and a little goofy.  Was it supposed to be goofy, like Tim Dorsey?  I couldn't hear a comedic tone in the author's voice, so my final conclusion was no.  There was a lot of running around, shooting, bashing, rescuing, a couple of beautiful women...  There was also some political messages embedded in the plot about the abuse of sturgeon fish for their caviar, but there was also something in there about reliance on technology.  It made me tired.

So as much as I want to be supportive of my Floridian brother who is cool and runs a bar and writes about our fair state, I can't do it this time.  There is potential here though, because Doc and his buddy ARE intriguing.  Based on the reviews of the earlier books, this is one series that needs to be read from the start.

A few words about the audio production:  This audio was narrated by George Guidall, who is a veteran in the business.  He really has done it all...Stephen King, Jodi Piccoult, Neil Gaiman, Nicholas Sparks, Wally Lamb.  Really, he has done everything.  He always delivers a solid performance in his work, regardless of genre.

2.5 out of 5 stars   


bermudaonion said...

Aw, that's too bad. I don't like to pick up in the middle of a series but who has time to read them all from the beginning? I agree with you that a well written series can be read out of order just fine.

Zibilee said...

It sounds like this one wasn't a standalone in any sense of the word, and the fact that it made you tired indicates that this is just not the book for me. I can see where fans of the series might have loved this one, but it sounds like you need a lot of background info to really get these books. Very candid review. It was very helpful.

caite said...

I agree that Florida can make an excellent backdrop for mysteries and mayhem...sadly it was not enough this time.

Literary Feline said...

I am sorry this one wasn't better, Sandy. It may be worth it (for me) to try some of the earlier books. I love a strong sense of place in a novel.

Julie P. said...

Bummer. I've been reading a lot of series out of order and I think most authors seem to try to make them work as stand alones.

Jenny said...

I've never heard of this series. I'm thinking for those who like the series the lack of back story and all that is probably refreshing.. sometimes when I'm reading a series book I'm like yeah yeah I know.. like how the babysitter's club always used chapter 2 to explain everything, LOL. I do like books that evoke a strong sense of place, though.

Julie @ Read Handed said...

Sandy, every year in September there is a Florida Heritage Book Festival held in St. Augustine (right down the road from you!). Sounds like it might be something that would interest you. Randy Wayne White was the keynote speaker last year. My husband and I go every year because we live in St. Augustine and the author talks/sessions are completely free. We love it! If you want to know more, here is their website: http://www.fhbookfest.com/.

Jenners said...

You should write a guide book to Old Florida lit!! ; )

Too bad this didn't quite work.

Kathleen said...

What a shame that a book that had the right setting for you didn't deliver on anything else. I'm not sure about the series but maybe it would be worth it to try to read the first one. It must have been strong enough to launch a series out of it.