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Mangrove Lightning

Mangrove Lightning

5.0 1
by Randy Wayne White

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The ghosts of a 1925 multiple murder stalk Doc Ford, in the electrifying new novel in the New York Times–bestselling series.
Doc Ford has been involved in many strange cases. This may be one of the strangest.
            A legendary charter captain and guide named


The ghosts of a 1925 multiple murder stalk Doc Ford, in the electrifying new novel in the New York Times–bestselling series.
Doc Ford has been involved in many strange cases. This may be one of the strangest.
            A legendary charter captain and guide named Tootsie Barlow has come to him, muttering about a curse. The members of his extended family have suffered a bizarre series of attacks, and Barlow is convinced it has something to do with a multiple murder in 1925, in which his family had a shameful part.
            Ford doesn’t believe in curses, but as he and his friend Tomlinson begin to investigate, following the trail of the attacks from Key Largo to Tallahassee, they, too, suffer a series of near-fatal mishaps. Is it really a curse? Or just a crime spree? The answer lies in solving a near-hundred-year-old murder . . . and probing the mind of a madman.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
At issue in bestseller White’s entertaining, if less than compelling, 24th novel featuring marine biologist and sometime government agent Marion “Doc” Ford (after 2016’s Deep Blue) is the fate of Florida Everglades property owned by retired fishing guide Tootsie Barlow. Barlow’s property is near Marco Island, which during Prohibition was the site of a war between bootleggers, such illegal activities as human smuggling (mostly Chinese), and the 1925 disappearance of Deputy J.H. Cox, who may have murdered a woman a few years earlier, along with his whole family. Barlow’s ancestors were involved in the bootlegging battle, and Doc’s sometime lover, Hannah Smith, is a descendant of the murder victim. Now Barlow’s few remaining relatives are meeting with fatal accidents, and Doc and his “boat bum hipster pal,” Tomlinson, head to Marco Island to investigate. There they confront a number of human monsters controlled by a most unlikely mastermind, who takes an interest in Hannah that’s something of a stretch in this fragmented adventure. Author tour. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Mangrove Lightning

“White comes up with a novel way to re-examine historical crimes: reincarnate the criminals as fictional present-day killers. It's a crazy idea, and some crazy developments trail in its wake, but it works.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Showcases a quirky, ever-endearing cast…and, of course, White’s natural facility for old-school action. [P]lus there’s a spectacular face-off at the end …that will have fans remembering some of John D. MacDonald’s grisliest villains. Hugely entertaining, especially for longtime fans.” — Booklist

Praise for Deep Blue

“[A] high-tech, grand-scale adventure. White makes particularly good use of [the] always-potent crime-fiction theme—the knight errant who inadvertently brings trouble home to those he loves. . . . This twenty-third Doc Ford novel will quickly assume its reserved seat on the New York Times and most other best-seller lists.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Lively characters, enough action for three summer blockbusters, and plenty of plot twists make this a great addition to the bestselling series.” —Publishers Weekly

“As with every Doc Ford story, the writing is tight and the story fast-paced . . . [Fans of] thriller heroes from James Bond to Jason Bourne will find a lot to like.” —Associated Press

“A trip to the Gulf Coast with Doc Ford is never dull . . . and White doesn’t skimp on the action. . . . This marine biologist increasingly lets his clandestine life as a government operative take him away from his quiet Sanibel Island home [and White] continues to find fresh ways to bring Ford into the chaos of world politics.” —South Florida Sun-Sentinel

“White continues to impress with detail and description of the high-tech marvels that have become a part of everyman’s life. . . . Deep Blue is the author at his best. You will want to say ‘He is back,’ but he never left.” —The Florida Times-Union

Library Journal
Doc Ford scratches his head when revered charter captain Tootsie Barlow protests that attacks on his extended family result from a curse dating to a 1925 multiple murder in which the family played an unfortunate part. But when he and his friend Tomlinson start tracking the attacks, they're nearly killed. Doc's 24th outing.
Kirkus Reviews
A 24th adventure for Marion "Doc" Ford (Deep Blue, 2016, etc.) interrupts his pursuit of a child pornographer to take him into even murkier waters: a kidnapping apparently haunted by a similar crime nearly a century ago.Back during Prohibition, as an opening Author's Note obligingly recounts, crusading real-life Deputy John Henry Cox briefly made headlines by disappearing along with his whole family in the middle of his investigation of a bootlegging ring that had made it clear that his attentions weren't welcome. The case was never closed, and it's mostly been forgotten—except by Tootsie Barlow, a noted fishing guide who's convinced that his late father Albert's involvement in the bootlegging is somehow responsible for his own family's considerable troubles. Tootsie's 17-year-old niece, Gracie, has vanished as completely as Deputy Cox; in fact, as Tootsie doesn't yet know, she's been kidnapped by an unlovely duo who include Ivy Lambeth, the daughter of legendary smuggler Walter Lambeth, and someone who may or may not be Ivy's nephew Slaten, the tattoo artist Gracie's chosen as her unsuitable boyfriend. Doc's off in the Bahamas on the trail of child porn merchant Jimmy Lutz, and although he promises to return home to Sanibel Island in response to his buddy Tomlinson's urgent phone call about the Barlow family's woes, he doesn't even get out of Lutz's hotel before another entanglement pops up, this one featuring Lady Gillian Cobourg, an unacknowledged relative of the royal family whom Doc needs to rescue from a fate worse than death. What will have become of Gracie Barlow by the time he gets home? White comes up with a novel way to re-examine historical crimes: reincarnate the criminals as fictional present-day killers. It's a crazy idea, and some crazy developments trail in its wake, but it works better than you might expect.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Doc Ford Series , #24
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt


On the phone, Tomlinson said to Ford, "When the deputy's wife and kids disappeared, moonshiners might've dumped their bodies in the lake-it was during Prohibition. It wouldn't be the first time karma has waited decades to boot justice in the ass."

"Tootsie Barlow told you that story?" Ford, a marine biologist, was referring to a famous fishing guide who ranked with Jimmie Albright, Jack Brothers, Ted Williams, and a few others as fly-casting pioneers in the Florida Keys.

"His family was involved somehow-the Barlows go way, way back in the area. I don't know how yet, but I will. He's in bad shape, so I need to take it slow, but you're the one who told me about the lake-Chino Hole. That's the connection. The access road cuts through Tootsie's property."

"I had no idea. He moved to the Everglades?"

"Smack-dab in the middle. One of those little crossroads villages like Copeland or Carnestown. The property's been in his family for years. I'm driving down this afternoon. Since he quit guiding, it's probably easier for him to wake up and see sawgrass instead of the Gulf Stream. The endgame, dude, for watermen like us, it can be pretty damn sad."

"I've heard the rumor," Ford said. "As far as your story goes, I'm still lost."

"So's Tootsie. How many fishing guides put away money for retirement? He's broke, which is bad enough, but now he's afraid that God has singled out his family for punishment. Like a conspiracy, you know? Not because of something he did, more likely something his father or a relative did. The cops won't listen, his preacher doesn't believe him, so who else is he gonna call but the Right Reverend, yours truly."

Tomlinson, an ordained Rinzai Buddhist priest, seldom employed the honorific "Right Reverend." The title had been bestowed by a Las Vegas divinity mill after cashing his check for fifty bucks.

"Tootsie wants you to put in a good word with God, I get it. I still don't see what this has to do with us . . ."

"He wants someone to convince the cops he's not crazy. And there's another connection. The deputy who disappeared was J. H. Cox. That ring a bell? It should."

"When was this?"

"Nineteen twenty-five. A few years earlier, a woman was murdered by a man named Cox. Same area; near Marco Island. I don't know if it was the same man, but your Hannah Smith is a direct descendant of the woman he killed."

Mentioning the biologist's ex-lover, Hannah, was a calculated risk to catalyze Ford's interest. In the background over the phone, Tomlinson could hear a steel drum band. "Hey, seriously, where are you?"

Ford, who was in the lobby of the Schooner Hotel, Nassau, Bahamas, said, "I'm in Lauderdale. At a convention for aquarium hobbyists. I'll get back to the lab late tomorrow. Hopefully."

"Bahia Mar, Lauderdale?"

"Close enough. Look . . . I've got a talk to give and I'm still working on my notes." As he spoke, the child-porn dealer he'd been tailing stepped to the registration desk. Ford covered the phone and moved as if getting into line.

When he rejoined the conversation, his boat bum hipster pal Tomlinson was saying, ". . . Tootsie's story is historical fact. I've got the old newspaper stories to prove it. In August 1925, Deputy Cox, his wife, and two kids all disappeared the night before a bunch of bootleggers went on trial. Marco Island or somewhere at the edge of the Everglades-get it?-all within a few miles of Chino Hole."

"Moonshiners would need fresh water," Ford reasoned while he watched the clerk encode the porn dealer's room key.

"That's who the newspapers blamed, but there was other nasty crap going on at the time, which I'm just starting to research. You ever hear of the Marco Island war?"

"Come on, you're making this up."

"It happened, man. Same time period. A bunch of heavy hitters had their fingers in the regional pie-Al Capone, probably Joe Kennedy, too, but they weren't the worst. The elite rich were stealing homesteads, and smuggling in Chinese illegals to boot." Tomlinson sniffed, and added, "Lauderdale, huh? Dude, the satellite must'a stopped over Nassau, 'cause I swear can I smell jerked chicken."

Ford replied, "Call you back," and hung up as the clerk addressed the porn dealer by name for the third time-standard, in the hospitality business-then handed over a key in a sleeve with the number 803 written on it and circled.

"I'll be checking out in about an hour," Ford told the clerk when it was his turn.

There were ceiling fans in the lobby and panoramic windows, beyond which sunbaked tourists lounged by the pool. A brunette in a red handkerchief two-piece was sufficiently lush and languid to spark a yearning in the biologist-an abdominal pang he recognized as discontent.

Focus, he told himself, and returned to his encrypted notes. It became easier when the brunette stood and buttoned up her beach wrap. Every set of poolside eyes followed her to the door.

An hour later, the porn dealer reappeared in the lobby, wearing shorts and flip-flops, and exited toward the tiki bar.

Ford shouldered his computer bag, and crossed the lobby to the elevators.

From the eighth floor, Montagu Bay was a turquoise basin encrusted with slums and ox cart traffic on the eastern fringe. Spaced along the waterfront were resort compounds; postcard enclaves that were separated from Nassau's realities by armed guards and tastefully disguised concertina wire.

The biologist no longer wondered why tourists came to places like this. People seldom traveled. Not really. Travel was too damn unpredictable. Instead, they contrived daydreams. They chose template fictions that matched, or came close enough to, the vacation they wanted to describe to their friends back home.

Near the elevator was a house phone. He dialed housekeeping, and told the woman, "I'm a dope. Can you please send someone up with a key to eight-oh-three? I locked myself out."

"Your name, sir?"

"James Lutz." That was the name the porn dealer was using.

"When security arrives," the woman added, "show them your passport, Mr. Lutz."

"Have him bring a bucket of ice, too," the biologist replied.

He was palming a twenty-euro bill when a kid wearing a name badge appeared, used a passkey, and bowed him into the room. "Hang on, I've got something for you." Inside the closet, as anticipated, was a wall safe, which he fiddled with before giving up. "Damn . . . must have punched in the number wrong. What's the default code? I need my wallet."

The kid opened the safe, and stepped back in deference to this solid-looking American who exuded confidence, but in a friendly way that suggested he was also generous.

"Thank you, Mr. Lutz," the kid said, accepting the twenty. No eye contact; he backed out of the room.

"You're supposed to see this." The fake passport earned only a dutiful glance.

He has no future in the security trade, Ford rationalized when the kid was gone. I did him a favor.

On the other hand, probably not. Child pornography was a billion-dollar international industry. Nassau was the ancillary stronghold for a Russian network that branched into Haiti, Indonesia, and the Middle East, particularly Muslim regions where daughters were treated as chattel. Children provided a steady income to jihadists who enjoyed beheading infidels. When word got out that a low-level dealer had lost incriminating files while drinking at the pool bar, Jimmy Lutz, or whatever his name was, would beg first for his life, then a painless bullet.

If he lived that long.

Wearing gloves and a jeweler's eyepiece, Ford secured an adhesive keystroke transmitter to Lutz's laptop. The translucent tape was two inches long and thinner than a human hair. Once mounted on the screen's black border, it became invisible, which Ford confirmed, before returning the laptop to its case.

Next, the safe. He photographed the contents: a wallet, two passports, a bundle of cash, and half a dozen ultra-secure biometric thumb drives. Three platinum thumb drives, three stealth black. Ford's employer, a Swiss agency, had anticipated this, but had provided him with only four stealth versions. He switched out the three black thumb drives, and repositioned each exactly as he'd found it before closing the safe.

Ford had also anticipated that Jimmy Lutz was in Nassau on a working vacation. On the bed, a Dacor dive bag lay next to a leather suitcase and a valet parking ticket. He unzipped the bag and removed a buoyancy compensator vest attached to a four-hose regulator.

The gear looked new.

Using a multi-tool, he popped a pin, removed the regulator's cover; next, a lubricating seal and the main diaphragm. A stainless valve seat and plunger were cupped within. With a drop of water-soluble glue, he seated an object that would clog the system when it broke free but would dissolve without a trace within twenty minutes. He did the same to the backup regulator, then returned everything to the bag.

There was no such thing as a zero signature robbery unless the victim wasn't alive to report the crime. No guarantees when or if it would happen, but a nice touch if the man had booked an afternoon dive.

When Ford was done, he consulted photos of the room to be sure it was exactly as he'd found it, then cracked the door and eyeballed the hallway.

Damn it . . . Lumbering toward him was Jimmy Lutz after only twenty minutes at the tiki bar. Maybe he'd left his wallet, or needed cigars. Ford hurried past the bed, pocketed the valet ticket, then exited onto the balcony, closing the curtains and sliding doors.

"You . . . bastard . . . get your hands off me," a woman said from nearby. British accent. She sounded more startled than mad. A neighboring balcony was empty, but billowing curtains suggested the woman was in the adjoining suite. Ford's attention wavered until a slamming door told him Lutz was in the room. Lights came on within, then heavy feet flip-flopped toward him, as the woman, voice louder, threatened, "I'll call the police, by god, if you don't get out of here right now."

Lutz heard her; curtains parted. Ford hugged the wall while the man peered out, his face inches away through the glass. Satisfied the woman wasn't on his balcony, Lutz engaged the dead bolt and swept the curtains closed.

Ford was trapped. He waited, hearing a mix of sounds from the adjoining suite: a clatter of furniture; the woman gasping, "Damn you . . . that hurts," and other indecipherable noises that signaled a struggle. Or was it a kinky twosome enjoying rough love?

Inside Lutz's room, a toilet flushed. A door suctioned curtains, then banged closed.

The porn dealer was gone.

Ford grabbed his tactical bag before testing the sliding doors. Yes, they were locked. He swung a leg over the railing, ignored the dizzying distance to the beach below, and made the long step to the next balcony, which was screened by landscape foliage. A potted plant crashed to the tile when he pushed his bag through, then followed. Beyond billowing curtains, through open doors, the room went silent.

Standing, looking in, he was prepared to apologize to the couple until he accessed the scene. A fit man wearing medical whites and a name badge glared back-a massage therapist whose table had collapsed on the floor during a struggle. Askew on the table, still battling to cover her body with a sheet, was the brunette he'd seen by the pool.

"Didn't know you was there, sir," the man glowered. "She want to call the constables, fine, but what you think they'll say? She's the one requested MY services."

In Nassau, even extortion threats sounded as melodic as a woodwind flute.

"Are you hurt?" Ford asked the woman. He pushed the curtains aside and stepped in.

She was confused, and mad enough to sputter, "I want this bastard fired. If you work for the hotel, I want to file a-"

"That man don't work here," the therapist said. Until then, he'd been backing toward the door. Now, looking from Ford to the broken pottery outside, he figured out the situation. "Yeah, what the police gonna say? This guest hire me, take her clothes off, her own free accord. I already know who they gonna believe."

"You cheeky son of a bitch." The woman tried to scoot away; the sheet fell. She folded her arms to cover herself until Ford yanked the sheet free and tossed it over her. He wore a baggy white guayabera shirt, tails out to cover the waistband of his khaki slacks. Again he asked the woman if she was hurt.

"Who are you?" she demanded. "For Christ's sake, call the manager . . . or do something. This man tried to rape me."

"Naw, come on," the therapist said in a soothing way. "That ain't true. You want to know the real problem? This fella come here to rob you, that's what they'll figure out. Why else he climb over that balcony? You being such a wealthy lady, they'll know a poor boy like me wouldn't do nothing so stupid."

"Bastard," the woman said, while the man grinned.

"Ain't you the spicy one," he countered. "I'm not the type to make trouble, so tell you what. Mister, I'm willing to leave polite-like-but I want compensation for all the fun I missed, plus the coin you lost me. Sound fair?"

"Very fair," Ford said. He reached back as if for a billfold but came up with a 9mm pistol and leveled the sights at the man's nose.

"Where do you want it?" he asked.

The massage therapist, no longer smiling, said, "Shit, man. What the . . . Don't make me take that away from you, 'cause you won't like what happens next."

Staring over the sights, Ford cocked the pistol, and spoke to the woman: "Get some clothes on and call the police, if that's what you want. But not from here. There's a house phone near the elevators."

The therapist turned to her. "See there, Miz Cobourg! He plans to shoot me 'cause he don't want witnesses," while the woman asked Ford, "Is it true? The constables won't believe me?"

"Not a chance," Ford said. "You made the appointment through the concierge?"

"Of course," she said, then understood the implications. "Oh hell. Yes, it was a damn fool thing to do, I suppose." She got to her feet with the sheet around her, no longer afraid, just angry and undecided.

"It happens a lot in places like this. If you're worried about headlines, I'd pack your things now and not look back. Or just forget it."

Meet the Author

This is Randy Wayne White's 25th Doc Ford book, after Mangrove Lightning and Deep Blue. He has also had four collections of his columns for Outside magazine and elsewhere published, as well as the Hannah Smith novels Gone, Deceived, Haunted, and Seduced. In 2002, a one-hour documentary film called The Gift of the Game, about White's trip to Cuba to find the remnants of the Little League teams founded by Ernest Hemingway in the days before Castro, won the "Best of the Fest" award from the 2002 Woods Hole Film Festival, then was broadcast by PBS in 2003. A veteran fishing guide who at one time had his own local PBS show, he lives in an old house on an Indian mound in Pineland, Florida.

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Mangrove Lightning 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous 2 days ago
This is a 5 star thriller! I couldn't read fast enough. My favorite characters Doc Ford and Tomlinson are determined to solve the mystery of Deputy Cox and his family who vanished one night in 1925 during the Marco Island War. That war has much to do with this carefully researched story that moves from the past into the present. From the Bahamas to interior Florida, White takes you down the dark corridors surrounding prohibition, bootlegging, moonshine ( aka mangrove lightning), Chinese slavery, and the horrible crimes involving two Florida families. The most evil of all is Walter Lambeth (aka Mr. Bird & Vernon Crow), a beast in every sense...and unforgettable. "If you run, he will catch you" is a chilling line repeated in the story. This thriller does what it's supposed to do...thrill you! I love the Doc Ford books for the characters and the friendly community of Dinkins Bay which is the perfect antidote. The linear pragmatic Doc Ford and the intuitive brilliant hippie Tomlinson approach life from different worlds, together they are wildly entertaining and effective!