"Bone Deep" (Putnam), by Randy Wayne White
Doc Ford, a secret agent masquerading as a Florida marine biologist, returns in a thriller that explores the secret world of relic hunters who illegally dig mammoth ivory, Indian artifacts and other prehistoric treasures from the depths of South Florida's limestone deposits.
The story begins when a Native American named Duncan Fallsdown enlists Doc and his mystical, pot-smoking pal Tomlinson in a quest to recover artifacts that belong to his tribe. Soon, the three find themselves face to face with relentless treasure seekers who will stop at nothing, including murder.
Ford has been a model of steely-eyed self-control in this series, so it's a treat to see him flustered by his on-again, off-again love affair with Hannah Smith, a free-spirited fishing guide, in the story's subplot. Ford actually gets jealous and then berates himself for it.
The convoluted main plot of "Bone Deep" is difficult to follow in spots. None of the secondary characters, except a retired circus elephant, are particularly well-drawn. The appeal of the novel lies largely in the subplot and in the fascinating details about Florida's hidden treasures and the geological forces that produced them.
Over the years, White's Doc Ford series has been solid -- and often outstanding -- and his new series featuring Hannah Smith as the protagonist is off to a great start. Although "Bone Deep" has its moments, it is not among his stronger offerings.
Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award, is the author of three crime novels including "Providence Rag."