Florida's history is fairly recent, at least compared to that of most areas. But what Florida lacks in longevity, the Sunshine State's past makes up in oddities and eccentricities, just like its present.

Randy Wayne White takes one of Florida's most iconic historical mysteries - the 1945 disappearance of Flight 19 that sparked rumors of the Bermuda Triangle - and turns it into a tailor-made story for his own icon, "Doc" Ford, in the 20th novel of this series. Although he's a reluctant sleuth at first, Ford finds that Flight 19 is the kind of mystery that allows him to use all aspects of his background as a marine biologist, a committed ecologist and, oh yeah, his "shadow" role as a government agent.

Drawing on his usual mix of science, ecology and Florida lore, White reels in an exciting story in "Night Moves," despite its occasional stumbles in the middle.

On Dec. 5, 1945, five Navy torpedo bombers disappeared on a training flight after taking off in Fort Lauderdale. All 14 airmen on the flight were lost; an additional 13 professional investigators searching for the missing bombers died when their flying boat exploded in mid-air. The disappearance remains unsolved although it has been suggested that the crew became disoriented.

In "Night Moves," Ford's friend, seaplane pilot Dan Futch, believes the flight wasn't lost over the Atlantic, but in the Gulf of Mexico. Ford and his hippie best friend Tomlinson go with Dan on their own search. But soon after taking off, Dan is forced to land on an island. The pilot is convinced someone tried to sabotage his plane but which of the trio is the target? Dan's outspoken views have riled some wealthy fishermen. Tomlinson's recreational use of marijuana has infuriated a couple of dealers while his sexual escapades have raised the ire of a husband or two. And Ford wonders which government operatives want revenge.

Back home at Dinkin's Bay in Sanibel Island, Ford's work as a scientist is interrupted by an aggressive filmmaker, a Haitian drug dealer and an expert assassin while the mystery of Flight 19 looms in the background.

The strength of the Ford series derives from its nearly seamless veering from tense action to the quiet scenes of marina life. It may seem inconsequential that Ford finds a lost dog or Tomlinson begins an affair with a married woman, but White wastes nothing in "Night Moves." Even the ecology lessons - a tarpon study that Ford has done for the state and unethical fishing habits - are rife with tension, especially when fishing tournament prizes can top $500,000. "Night Moves" illustrates why, after 20 novels, Ford's double life and White's attention to the Florida scenery continue to intrigue readers.

'Night Moves'

by Randy Wayne White

Putnam