White's 'Night Vision' fact-filled but still mystical

Randy Wayne White continues to give life, color and sound to the unique (and yes, not always in a good way) entity that is Florida in his latest novel, “Night Vision.”
The book continues the narrative of Doc Ford, White’s mild-mannered marine biologist, and his cosmically wacky sidekick, Tomlinson, both of whom make their homes in the mythical Dinkin’s Bay Marina on the very real Sanibel Island off the coast of Southwest Florida. Tomlinson’s a very spiritual type with sporadically astounding insight — a mysticism that, you might say, mystifies Ford. But then Doc himself is far more than he appears, occasionally called in by the government to take care of some bad guy or another, usually in a deeply exotic locale, and possessed of skills that would be foreign to the average marine biologist — and maybe even to James Bond.

“Vision” is the story of Tula Choimha, a young Guatemalan girl who has left her homeland for Florida in search of various family members including her mother. Tomlinson has encountered Tula, who closely identifies with Joan of Arc, her heroine and patron (matron?) saint, and is impressed with her spirituality and wisdom well beyond her years. Naturally — this being Florida and all that — there are plenty of characters ready to exploit her, one way or another. Which means Tomlinson and Ford must try to come to the rescue.

And so the adventures of Tula progress chronologically and geographically, taking readers from Sanibel to nearby Fort Myers Beach to a hunting camp near Immokalee, in the state’s comparatively dark (but endlessly fascinating) interior. That the geographical references are realistic (as far as time and distance, etc.) is not surprising, since former journalist White tends to be as accurate as possible within his fiction. What is surprising is the extent of Guatemalan culture and Catholic tradition (not to mention the finer details of marine biology) he relates. He’s quite a researcher.

And it all makes for a tightly written, colorfully woven, gripping story.