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Bookworm: A new Doc Ford and some celebrity gossip

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“Salt River: A Doc Ford Novel”

  • By Randy Wayne White
  • c. 2020, Putnam
  • $27, $36 Canada 368 pages

You just spit in a tube. That’s what you do when you have your DNA sequenced: spit, cap it tight, ship it off, and wait. A few weeks later, you’ll know where your ancestors lived. You’ll have an explanation for your red hair or long fingers. You’ll see the world differently. Or, as in the new novel “Salt River” by Randy Wayne White, you’ll open a world of trouble.

Randy Wayne White

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Twenty-odd years ago, back when Tomlinson was a hungry young man, he seized upon what he thought was an easy way to make a buck: he donated to a for-profit sperm bank. Now that youthful decision had come back to haunt him, in the form of several adult children he never knew he had – each one hoping to meet their biological father.

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There were, as Tomlinson’s best friend Marion “Doc” Ford pointed out, downsides to genetic testing.

The biggest one was that Tomlinson was find-able and one of his children, Delia, had come to Sanibel Island, asking questions.

She was smart, as Ford could tell, but she was nosing around in the wrong place for answers that she might never get. What’s worse: she practically led her half-siblings to Tomlinson’s door, and to Sanibel, where it was easy to get into trouble if you weren’t careful enough.

Doc Ford knew all about that, too.

“Salt River: A Doc Ford Novel” by Randy Wayne White.

It hadn’t been long since he’d returned to Sanibel from the Bahamas, where Jimmy Jones, a “shrewd operator,” had hidden millions of dollars in shipwrecked gold that the government, divers, and archaeologists all wanted to find. Ford didn’t know where Jimmy was or whether he was even alive, but he knew where the gold was stashed. Some of it, in fact, was hidden in a buoy beneath Ford’s houseboat – a little secret that he hoped the thieves who’d kill for it would never learn…

So, here’s the thing: “Salt River” is a thriller-not-thriller.

It’s clever, times two. Author Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford spins a double scam in this story and it’s a plotline that readers (and fans!) will love because it’s… well, no spoilers here. It’s good because Tomlinson has a large part in this book and he’s a generally likable guy. This book sews up a seam that ripped in past books – don’t worry, you’ll catch up quick enough, if you’re not a regular Ford-novel reader – and it leaves another tear in a different spot that’s made for more Ford.

But thrilling? Not so much. There’s action in “Salt River,” but it’s not a leap-out-of-your-seat kind of thrill; it’s more like a sink-in-your-chair-and-enjoy kind of novel with enough high-tide danger, intrigue, and action to keep you reading. With guns and sharks but little-to-no profanity or sexplicit scenes, you could almost call it Heart-Pounding Lite.

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For readers who like mile-a-minute novels but want something just a tad gentler for once, this one’s what you need to find. Of course, mystery-thrillers are what you love, and “Salt River” is the spittin’ image.

“Name Drop: The Really Good Celebrity Stories I Usually Only Tell at Happy Hour”

  • By Ross Mathews
  • c. 2020, Atria Books
  • $26, $29.99 Canada; 225 pages

Some people collect glassware. Others collect books or sweaters or Santa statues or fancy cars or any one of a million things there are more than two of. Scientists say that, as a species, we’re hard-wired to do it, even if you just collect friends. And in “Name Drop” by Ross Mathews, some of them might even be famous.

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From the time he was a little boy growing up in a farm community in Washington state, Mathews wanted to have friends that were celebrities. He imagined what it would be like to hang out with them and gossip … and then it happened.

Now, he says he hates when people “name drop,” but “honey,” he has stories ...

“Name Drop: The Really Good Celebrity Stories I Usually Only Tell at Happy Hour” by Ross Mathews.

His celebrity circle started when he was an intern on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno, which sent him to report on the Olympics three times, which led him to start a blog, and that’s how he became BFFs with Rosie O’Donnell. They’ve been fast friends ever since, though it was she who “made” him “sleep with a Republican.”

He worked with Chelsea Handler on “Chelsea Lately” and because of where the show was filmed, he met and became friends with the Kardashians, who were filming their reality show in the same building. The Chelsea gig also gave Mathews the opportunity to be on the sidelines when his beloved Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2013.

That was the year he also got to play celebrity matchmaker.

He had a chance to meet two of the Spice Girls. He got a quick-click photo op with Celine Dion. He met Omorosa and scooped every rabid reporter on TV; he met “Liza with an OMG” and spent all night talking with Christina Aguilera.

But “not every celebrity story is going to end like a fairy tale where the famous person and I end up bonding ... ” says Mathews.

Especially when it’s Barbara Walters, Faye Dunaway, or Elizabeth Taylor …

No doubt about it, “Name Drop” sure is fun.

It’s got the feel of a Friday night at your bestie’s house, where the snacks on the kitchen counter are bottomless and so are the skinny ‘ritas, and you scream yourself hoarse in mock horror and real laughter at the stories you’re told. It’s got the kind of gossip you want about the stars you love (or love to hate), spilled with a little snark and a charming amount of awe. It’s got an absolute (and absolutely relieving) sense that being famous sometimes doesn’t make a person act famous – although sometimes, it does. And it’s got “Rossipes” (Rossipes!) you can make to go along with your reading.

Like a red-carpet walk with a broken heel, though, “Name Drop” sometimes limps. Author Ross Mathews is funny and punny, but not both simultaneously: alas, the puns are too much, too overwhelming, so feel free to groan and ignore them. The dishy tales you get in this book are way more fun; in fact, if you love boy-meets-girl-celebrity tales, you’ll find that “Name Drop” is a great collection.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.