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

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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003


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

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. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020


A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be...

Box takes another break from his highly successful Joe Pickett series (Stone Cold, 2014, etc.) for a stand-alone about a police detective, a developmentally delayed boy, and a package everyone in North Dakota wants to grab.

Cassandra Dewell can’t leave Montana’s Lewis and Clark County fast enough for her new job as chief investigator for Jon Kirkbride, sheriff of Bakken County. She leaves behind no memories worth keeping: her husband is dead, her boss has made no bones about disliking her, and she’s looking forward to new responsibilities and the higher salary underwritten by North Dakota’s sudden oil boom. But Bakken County has its own issues. For one thing, it’s cold—a whole lot colder than the coldest weather Cassie’s ever imagined. For another, the job she turns out to have been hired for—leading an investigation her new boss doesn’t feel he can entrust to his own force—makes her queasy. The biggest problem, though, is one she doesn’t know about until it slaps her in the face. A fatal car accident that was anything but accidental has jarred loose a stash of methamphetamines and cash that’s become the center of a battle between the Sons of Freedom, Bakken County’s traditional drug sellers, and MS-13, the Salvadorian upstarts who are muscling in on their territory. It’s a setup that leaves scant room for law enforcement officers or for Kyle Westergaard, the 12-year-old paperboy damaged since birth by fetal alcohol syndrome, who’s walked away from the wreck with a prize all too many people would kill for.

A suspenseful, professional-grade north country procedural whose heroine, a deft mix of compassion and attitude, would be welcome to return and tie up the gaping loose end Box leaves. The unrelenting cold makes this the perfect beach read.

Pub Date: July 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-58321-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: April 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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