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Randy Wayne White’s new Doc Ford mystery ‘Salt River’ isn’t up to author’s usual standards

The 26th book in a series that began 30 years ago with ‘Sanibel Flats’ sees marine biologist/semi-retired intelligence op protagonist struggling with, of all things, jealousy.

Randy Wayne White.
Randy Wayne White.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Thirty years have zipped by since Randy Wayne White introduced readers to marine biologist/occasional spy Doc Ford and his pals in “Sanibel Flats.” The crime fiction series has largely been solid.

At times, though, it falters. “Salt River” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $27), the 26th Doc Ford novel, is one of those times.

White’s prose is better than OK, of course. And Doc’s fans will be pleased that old friends, including his sometime love interest Hannah Smith and his aging hippie pal Tomlinson are in on the action.

But the book’s twin plots are farfetched even for a Doc Ford novel. One plotline picks up the story told in “Caribbean Rim,” when Doc outmaneuvered thugs hunting Spanish gold off the Bahamas and secretly made off with a portion of it for himself.

These days, Doc, a semi-retired intelligence operative scratching out a living as a marine biologist on Florida’s Sanibel Island, is gradually selling off his find. But a dishonest former IRS agent and a thuggish Bahamian customs official get wind of it and hope to trick Doc into revealing the location of the rest.

While that’s going on, Tomlinson, who once, while strapped for cash, sold his semen to a for-profit sperm bank, is beset by a bunch of full-grown offspring who have tracked him down. Doc has reason to believe one or two of them could be up to no good.

And Doc’s relationship with Hannah, with whom he has fathered a child, shows his vulnerable side. Again, she turns down his marriage proposal, and her new boyfriend has Doc struggling with an unfamiliar emotion: jealousy.

White spun off Hannah in 2012. The four books so far in that series have something ome recent Ford novels are lacking: freshness.