Randy Wayne White: “Gone”

Randy Wayne White, author of the Doc Ford series, has introduced a new character in his latest novel, “Gone.”

The new protagonist, Hannah Smith, shares many traits with Doc: She lives virtually across they bay from Dinkins Harbor, she’s a part-time fishing guide and part-time investigator, and there’s a stilt house in the book.

Instead of a former government hitman, however, the new protagonist is a Florida-raised misfit, age 31, who is just discovering the joys of being an attractive female.

And that’s just in the first 25 pages.

The storyline kept me reading, I’ll give White that. But I found the divergence from his logical, get-the-job-done Doc Ford character a bit hard to swallow. Much of “Gone” involves detailed passages about shoes, fashion brand names, vibrators, lesbianism and cute black cocktail dresses. White must be aiming for an entirely new audience.

Included in the narrative are several direct tie-ins with the world of Marion Ford, who makes a couple of barely mentioned indirect appearances. And his hippie spiritualist buddy, Tomlinson, makes a half-page appearance. Hannah bought her boat from the Doc. And in the final pages, she’s making plans to seduce the older man. But if you’re expecting to read a suspenseful, engaging story about conflict, you’re going to be disappointed.

The basic tone of this novel reads like an author trying, with a major amount of discomfort, to write about a protagonist about whom he knows very little. And it shows. Not much really happens in this story. The coastal Florida setting that added so much regional flavor to the early Doc Ford books is lacking, replaced by boxy references to location. The fascinating dynamic between Ford and Tomlinson also is lacking in “Gone,” replaced by a 317-page monologue by Hannah, occasionally accompanied by her gay bodybuilder friend who seems more like a cardboard cutout rather than an actual character in the book. After being the subject of occasional passages throughout the narrative, the villain finally makes an actual appearance right at the end of the book, when he behaves like a caricature of a psychopathic idiot who couldn’t survive a trip to Wal-Mart.

I still love White’s early works, the first dozen or so Doc Ford novels. But he’s been losing his focus the last couple of years. I did not care for “Gone.” Unless White can improve his characterization and setting description and weave some more action into this next effort, I fear the title of this first Hannah Smith novel may be all too applicable to White’s popularity.