Russell could, and should, take Marquez and this crew out again.

SHELL GAMES

A special squad of undercover endangered-species investigators goes after poachers and ends up taking on a nightmarish international killer and the FBI.

Lt. John Marquez, head of the California Fish & Game Department’s Special Operations Unit, stumbles upon a grisly torture-murder while investigating a multimillion-dollar abalone poaching operation. Something stinks, and it’s not bad shellfish. Ex-DEA agent Marquez can’t help but notice the similarities between this torture killing and the darkest moment from his fed dope-sleuth period in Mexico. His nemesis, the man who took out his entire DEA crew and said he’d get him later, is back. The local homicide investigator and FBI don’t want Marquez poking into the case. Meanwhile, he has much of the detective genre’s DNA: he’s moody, struggles with his demons by night, his ex-DEA undercover bio subs for the usual Vietnam vet résumé, and though he’s not divorced, his marriage is on the rocks thanks to the old struggle between the job and the family. Throw in a few more flashbacks and he’d fit right in at James Lee Burke’s Robicheaux Dock & Bait Shop in Louisiana. But to first-novelist Russell’s credit, Marquez doesn’t chase Scotch with jazz or slam his badge and gun on the boss’s desk. This is not a cliché fest. The story is loaded with atmosphere, as the SOU team races through clogged California traffic up and down the moody coast from Fort Bragg to San Francisco. It’s also made unself-consciously relevant with timely references, such as contrasting the mortally wounded California state budget and the whatever-it-takes blank check given federal agencies in the name of post-9/11 national security. The SOU crew includes a variety of believable characters, not a one from central casting. The bad guys are as colorful as Elmore Leonard’s cast of wise guys, but with ex-hippie and surfer dudes subbing for Leonard’s thugs and made men.

Russell could, and should, take Marquez and this crew out again.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-8118-4186-3

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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One protest from an outraged innocent says it all: “This is America. This is Wyoming.”

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LONG RANGE

Once again, Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett gets mixed up in a killing whose principal suspect is his old friend Nate Romanowski, whose attempts to live off the grid keep breaking down in a series of felony charges.

If Judge Hewitt hadn’t bent over to pick up a spoon that had fallen from his dinner table, the sniper set up nearly a mile from his house in the gated community of the Eagle Mountain Club would have ended his life. As it was, the victim was Sue Hewitt, leaving the judge alive and free to rail and threaten anyone he suspected of the shooting. Incoming Twelve Sleep County Sheriff Brendan Kapelow’s interest in using the case to promote his political ambitions and the judge’s inability to see further than his nose make them the perfect targets for a frame-up of Nate, who just wants to be left alone in the middle of nowhere to train his falcons and help his bride, Liv Brannon, raise their baby, Kestrel. Nor are the sniper, the sheriff, and the judge Nate’s only enemies. Orlando Panfile has been sent to Wyoming by the Sinaloan drug cartel to avenge the deaths of the four assassins whose careers Nate and Joe ended last time out (Wolf Pack, 2019). So it’s up to Joe, with some timely data from his librarian wife, Marybeth, to hire a lawyer for Nate, make sure he doesn’t bust out of jail before his trial, identify the real sniper, who continues to take an active role in the proceedings, and somehow protect him from a killer who regards Nate’s arrest as an unwelcome complication. That’s quite a tall order for someone who can’t shoot straight, who keeps wrecking his state-issued vehicles, and whose appalling mother-in-law, Missy Vankeuren Hand, has returned from her latest European jaunt to suck up all the oxygen in Twelve Sleep County to hustle some illegal drugs for her cancer-stricken sixth husband. But fans of this outstanding series will know better than to place their money against Joe.

One protest from an outraged innocent says it all: “This is America. This is Wyoming.”

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53823-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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