June 16, 1997 12:00 PM

by Randy Wayne White

This is the perfect novel for mystery fans with a taste for exotic settings, Schwarzenegger-style mayhem and scenes in which gorgeous lesbians get entangled with revolutionaries. Its hero is the quick-thinking, terse-talking Doc Ford, a marine biologist and CIA alum with a collection of nut-case chums. Summoned to Havana by his buddy Tomlinson, a calamity-prone mystic imprisoned after his boat blundered into Cuban waters, the tough-but-tender Ford embarks on a rescue mission that leads to a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro, a search for the secret grave of Christopher Columbus and a flight through the jungle with a Canadian businessman who proves to be a double agent. Whew!

Although some characters could have been fleshed out in a more satisfying way and a romantic involvement between Ford and his smart-mouthed lady friend simply peters out, the narrative moves along smartly. Most readers won’t stop to fret over the surfeit of subplots or the far-fetched ending. White, a Florida-based journalist and outdoorsman who chronicles his own Doc Ford-ish exploits in Outside magazine, is an engaging storyteller. He has a naturalist’s eye and an ironic sensibility that make this genre novel add up to more than the sum of its parts. (Putnam, $22.95)

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