The mysterious account of three people lost at sea and never found inspired Randy Wayne White's latest novel, Twelve Mile Limit.
One Friday in early November 1994, four scuba divers set off for some diving and fishing 52 miles off the coast of Florida at the wreck of the Baja California. Thirty-eight hours later, after their boat sank stranding the passengers in the ocean beyond the safety of the 12-mile limit — the boundary ending United States' protection — one passenger was found.
The survivor swam three miles to the nearest light tower, stripped off his wetsuit and, completely naked, waved it to catch the Coast Guard's attention.
The search lasted for over a week trying to find some small scrap of evidence to locate the other three divers. All had been wearing buoyancy devices and wetsuits, yet it was as if they'd completely fallen off the face of the earth.
More than 23,000 square miles were swept searching for the lost passengers using the best high-tech searching devices available, but still there was nothing. To this day, the bodies of the three fallen divers haven't been found.
What happened to them?
For two months White researched the subject, interviewing the sole survivor of the dive and at least a dozen people associated with the mystery.
He hoped to gain knowledge and insight into the disappearance of the divers for a fictional account of the factual events that took place eight years ago.
White had plenty of time to research after the success of his last two books, Sanibel Flats and The Heat Islands. In February of this year the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association named Sanibel Flats one of the 100 best mystery novels of the century.
White began writing after he was forced into early retirement by the federal government. In 1987 the Feds closed the Tarpon Bay Marina off Sanibel Island, laying off White, light tackle fishing guide, potential windsurfer (he just took up the sport) and future author of thrilling action/adventure novels.
"Essentially, I wasn't qualified to do anything," says White, self-deprecatingly. "So I wrote a novel."
Twelve Mile Limit is the ninth book in White's series featuring Doc Marion Ford, a charismatic, mysterious and sort of nerdy Gilligan-like biologist who sells aquatic wildlife to schools around the country for research projects.
Need a mollusk? Doc Ford is your man. Or, say you need rescued from some really mean terrorists who shrink heads as a hobby in the South American backwoods — Doc Ford can take care of that, too.
Throughout the prior Doc Ford novels, White left out many details about Ford's past. He wanted to maintain Doc's mysterious qualities and leave his readers curious and hungry for more information to come out in future novels.
Twelve Mile Limit continues to divulge Doc Ford tidbits. We learn that ol' Doc can kick some serious behind and handle a gun like any trained commando (maybe because he was one . . . hmm). Not to mention that Doc knows some impressive ways of killing the bad guys with his bare hands. If you're into that kind of thing, you'll be awed.
Doc is a biologist version of Indiana Jones — both have a disguised power hidden under the normal-man persona. Biologist by day, butt-kicking warrior by night.
And there are women in his life, too. Doc might be a biologist nerd, but the chicks dig him. And he likes them, too, but he just has this problem. Doc isn't afraid of commitment; he's actually a very loyal character.
"He's just afraid of intimacy," White admits.
Not only are real-life men problematic, now the created ones are as well. But, of course White knew what he was doing when he created Doc. He set out to make a character that was "purely analytical, scientific, linear. Unsympathetic." He then created another character who's the exact opposite in every way but friendship bonds.
Doc's good friend is Tomlinson, a Hippie Buddhist. He's the "spiritual, intuitive and sympathetic" counterpart to Doc Ford's analytical self, White says. And Tomlinson's character makes for an extremely colorful character from beginning to end.
Throughout Twelve Mile Limit the characters, specifically Doc Ford, change. White began with two distinct, separate characters, knowing that one can take on the other's traits. Doc Ford transforms into a more spiritual and intuitive person. It's as if he realizes his inner hippie, so to speak — minus the pot.
From start to finish, White creates a colorful cast of memorable characters. From Tomlinson the over-the-hill hippie to a psychotic mercenary who collects shrunken heads of those men he has killed, Twelve Mile Limit is fun and interesting.
White, who writes around 1,000 words a day five days a week, has us turning pages as Doc Ford discusses octopi, rare fish and corrupt South American governments in first person and continues to engage us as third person images of missing divers lost at sea give us chills.
Twelve Mile Limit is a fun read, though at times it's drawn out with too much information. The novel as a whole leaves you wanting to read further.
And though Limit is the ninth book in the Doc Ford series, they don't have to be read in order. White is very helpful, lacing in tidbits of information so his audience can read in whatever order they like.
Randy Wayne White signs and discusses Twelve Mile Limit at 7 p.m. June 25 at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Norwood.