“FIVE DAYS, SEVEN HOURS AND THIRTY-SOME MINUTES LATER”
Dusky MacMorgan is a happy man, at least as happy as a recent Vietnam vet who worked Special Ops as a Navy SEAL can be. He has a beautiful wife and twin sons who love him dearly. He has his best friend from Nam working as a fishing guide on the same island. He has a commercial fishing boat that suits him perfectly. He has exactly what makes him happy – until he doesn’t have anything left but his boat.
Dusky’s first step into Hell occurs when his best friend is murdered at sea by drug runners intent on hijacking his boat. Another guide happens to see the hijacking through binoculars, pulls the body from the ocean and radios Dusky, who is only a few miles away. Dusky runs them down and kills the two hijackers that the fellow guide said were on the boat. Unfortunately, the guide didn’t see the third man. Dusky manages to overpower the man and is about to fatally dispatch him when a Coast Guard helicopter arrives overhead.
The Coast Guard arrests that third hijacker, but before the sun goes down, Benjamin Ellsworth is essentially a free man. It seems Ellsworth is on the payroll of a U.S. Senator and a team of Federal agents quickly appear, make the charges disappear and have Ellsworth on his way by the day of Dusky’s friend’s funeral. And this is not good for Dusky.
On the hijacked boat, Dusky had recognized Ellsworth as a narcissistic, egotistical and cowardly SEAL officer who had commanded his unit at one point in Nam. And before the Coast Guard arrested him, Ellsworth had told Dusky that he would get him for what he had done and that he would pay.
Five days, seven hours and thirty-some minutes later, Dusky paid. After the funeral of his friend, Dusky sent his wife and children home while he quietly walked the streets and docks of Key West, grieving both his friend’s death and the fact that his killer had gone free.
Heading back to his house about sunset, he felt it before he heard it. Moments later he saw it – his car in pieces and the bodies of his wife and children scattered about his yard in much smaller pieces.
It was supposed to be Dusky in that car. Most evenings, about sunset, it was his habit to drive back to the docks to check his boat’s moorings and security. But he was on foot that night and, apparently, his wife decided to check the boat for him. At this point, everyone who meant anything to Dusky is dead. And now, the guilty must pay.
This is Randy Wayne White’s debut novel, written when he used the pseudonym of Randy Striker. Originally published in 1981, the version I had access to was printed in 2006 and included an Introduction that explained how the book – and its characters – came into existence. According to White, this first of what would eventually be seven Dusky MacMorgan adventures was written in nine days on a manual typewriter with very little use of Wite-Out or re-typed pages.
The novel is full of clichéd dialogue, just like the average person really speaks. The dialects of the Southern island characters are spot on. The product placement and the physics of operating the size boat he commands are accurate and visually clear.
The action sequences feel, at first, a bit over the top. But then, when you read their details a second time, remembering the physical characteristics and backstory of Dusky MacMorgan, they feel more plausible. And White does not make anything easy for Dusky in his quest for revenge. In fact, more things go wrong than right, not because of poor planning or poor judgment, but because Dusky cannot possibly predict everyone’s every choice.
White writes Dusky as an intelligent and capable man, with the capacity to both access and evaluate his emotions. You feel that you are right there seeing, thinking, and feeling exactly as he does. It is a clear ride through his mind even when he explores the reasons he considers committing suicide and the reasons why he doesn’t.
Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford series is far more sophisticated than that written about Dusky MacMorgan. However, this first entry in that first series is nothing to complain about. The character of Dusky may be more extroverted than that of Doc Ford and the action may come a bit faster and more in-your-face, but White’s ability to get to the heart of the matter and the heart of the man is clearly evident in both.
Cover Art From Goodreads