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Shell Games: A John Marquez Crime Novel (John Marquez Crime Novels) Kindle Edition

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Length: 362 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In recent years, mystery writers seem to have entered a secret contest to see who could come up with the best variant on the traditional detective heroes: cops or ex-cops (usually wounded or traumatized) turned private eyes. Russell should walk off with the award for far and away the most inventive new detective hero--an ex-DEA agent who now heads a covert special operations unit of the California Department of Fish and Game. Lieutenant Marquez's job is to protect wildlife, but two discoveries--a slew of empty abalone shells and the bodies of two murdered divers--propel Marquez back into his narc-fighting days. Behind the empty shells and the slain divers is a drug runner making big money smuggling abalone. The plot moves, credibly and intriguingly, from Marquez's bewildering discovery to a fight for his own life as the drug lord hunts him down. A first-rate start to a projected series. Connie Fletcher
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

In an era of global terrorism, saving California's endangered abalone might not seem like the highest of priorities, and Lt. John Marquez -- head of a special operations unit of the state's Department of Fish and Game -- knows it.

"A faction of the public had grown weary of trying to save species, of competing with animals for space and the right to make a living," he thinks as he prepares to confront a bereaved Vietnamese poacher whose teenage son has drowned and who has a freezer full of illegal abalone.

But Marquez also knows that the particular band of abalone poachers he's after now -- people who have already killed a couple of times and will continue to escalate the body count -- are not just a "handful of former commercial divers disgruntled with DFG regulations, scheming to get rich."

These villains are more like the vicious band, headed by a vindictive Irish psychopath named Kline, that wiped out Marquez's team when he was with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration a few years back.

A large part of the considerable strength of Kirk Russell's first mystery novel (along with his clear and pungent writing, especially about the primal weirdness of life along the Mendocino coast) comes from the way he makes us quickly believe in Marquez and his cause -- mostly by letting us watch as the Fish and Gamers get frustrated, pushed around and generally shut out by the FBI and local police agencies. One of Marquez's bosses points out that the country's "post 9/11 gear-up" is a lot like the way the FBI responded to the Cold War communist threat of the 1950s: "They spent a lot of money and threw a lot of agents at the problem and our enemies just adapted."

Marquez, of course, isn't about to sit back and suck up the punishment, but he has to be extra careful -- especially with a newly pregnant team partner, a wife wondering whether to go on with their shaky marriage, and the scary Kline floating around out there, holding on tight to an old grudge. -Chicago Tribune

"You know as you read this one that you are on to something good. Kirk Russell comes out of the gate with a story brimming with fresh characters and artful prose. Shell Games announces the start of what I think will be a great career." -Michael Connelly

"Excellent...a compelling plot, fully realized characters, white-knuckle suspense, and unusual yet accessible settings. What truly sets it apart, though, is Kirk Russell's vigorous, lovely, unadorned prose. Shell Games marks the debut of a substantial new talent in crime fiction." -John Lescroart

"Shell Games integrates spellbinding suspense into a wonderfully unpredictable plot that holds the reader hostage to the very last page." -Ridley Pearson

"Compelling characters, unrelenting suspense, and vivid settings all add up to a great read. Kirk Russell's Shell Games is so well-crafted, it's hard to believe it's a first novel." -Jan Burke

In recent years, mystery writers seem to have entered a secret contest to see who could come up with the best variant on the traditional detective heroes: cops or ex-cops (usually wounded or traumatized) turned private eyes. Russell should walk off with the award for far and away the most inventive new detective hero-an ex-DEA agent who now heads a covert special operations unit of the California Department of Fish and Game. Lieutenant Marquez's job is to protect wildlife, but two discoveries-a slew of empty abalone shells and the bodies of two murdered divers--propel Marquez back into his narc-fighting days. Behind the empty shells and the slain divers is a drug runner making big money smuggling abalone. The plot moves, credibly and intriguingly, from Marquez's bewildering discovery to a fight for his own life as the drug lord hunts him down. A first-rate start to a projected series. -Booklist

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 resume, 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 cliche 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 unselfconsciously 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. -Kirkus

"With his first novel, Kirk Russell drops readers directly into the action on the craggy North Coast, carving a new niche in crime writing with an environmental edge...Once hooked by Shell Games, readers may find themselves wanting to buy this guy Marquez a drink just to keep him talking." -San Francisco Chronicle


Product Details

  • File Size: 1549 KB
  • Print Length: 362 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0811841863
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC (October 21, 2011)
  • Publication Date: October 21, 2011
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005W9Q8VE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #329,774 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

I'm an inveterate reader. I'll read across the board but as a writer crime fiction hooked me for the way the genre let's you write at something morally ambiguous without getting stranded in it. You can write a novel that moves, and keeps moving. I've written six crime novels. In Shell Games, Night Game, Dead Game, and Redback, a California Fish and Game lieutenant is running an undercover team called the Special Operations Unit. Two more recent, A Killing in China Basin and Counterfeit Road, are with a San Francisco homicide inspector. Most all of it is in country I know, but none of it would have worked without the help of the real life Fish and Game undercover team and two San Francisco homicide inspectors. Which is another good thing about crime fiction. You can flirt with reality and if it works end up with a story that feels like it might have really happened.

Kirk Russell has two daughters. He lives in Berkeley, California with his wife, Judy Rodgers, co-owner and chef of San Francisco's Zuni Cafe.For more visit kirkrussellbooks.com

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Patty Owens on February 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
My book club selected this book for last months meeting. It was quite a different topic than we are used to, but since we have two biologists and all of us enjoy cooking exotic foods we thought it might be of interest. One of our members saw the author at a book signing, and came back raving. I generally do not read hard boiled detective stories, but prefer the Janet Evanovitch variety, those fun, fast reads. This is quite different. It took me a few chapters to get into the story, and get the characters straight, but after that, I was hooked! This is far more satisfying. I was introduced to a field, the Fish and Game Department, which was new to me, and learned something about animal poaching in the US. I previously thought that was a problem in Africa or Asia, but not here. John Marquez, a Fish and Game warden, becomes involved in an abalone smuggling ring that evolves into a drugs, and murder. The female wardens are real career women juggling pregnancy with undercover work. We all liked the fact that the female characters were strong, and not just fluff on the edge of the plot, and that the family situation, with a troubled teenage step-child, anorexia issues, etc. all seemed very realistic. The writing is excellent, and face paced. There are few books we read as a book club that our husbands will read, but this is the exception. I am looking forward to the next book. It's great to find a new series that my husband and I can both be excited about.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By E. Momsen on January 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover
What a great book! I began reading it on an airplane, and had to stay in the airport after I landed just to finish those last incredible pages! Living on the Oregon coast, I am interested in books that take place in this environment. The author captures the beauty and wildness of the Northern California coast, and I especially enjoyed learning more about the poaching problem. It is a rare thing to read an exciting mystery, and also learn about current issues. California Department of Fish and Game Lieutenant Marquez begins a search for abalone poachers which leads to former drug smugglers. I had no idea that abalones were such a high cash item. My confession: after reading this book, I am dying to actually taste an abalone!
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Constant Reader on April 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I liked it not just as a suspense/crime novel, but also as a "Novel Novel". Solid character with believable interior life and family problems (but not some bizarre Neurotic Impediment or cutesy Attribute), nice observations, interesting setting, and not much bloated detail, which sometimes infects novels by first time authors. (I've seen too many sentences like "She gingerly withdrew a pale pink facial tissue from the box imprinted with a pattern of violets and daisies." So for whom did the detail matter?) The hero's professional and personal relationships are not chummy, but there's an arms-length respect that rings true to the rest of his character.
I also appreciate that the chief villain is basically bad but believable, a hardened professional criminal and not a "psychopath" or serial killer; far too many mysteries, even by experienced and talented writers, fall back on that to excuse a lack of interior character development. (Maybe they should look at Simenon's crime novels, or maybe Elmore Leonard's.)
Nice job all around. I'll be looking for his next novel.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By L. J. Roberts VINE VOICE on April 10, 2005
Format: Paperback
With the story set in my own San Francisco Bay Area, I very much enjoyed the locations and appreciate manner in which he presented the problems of the Dept. of Fish and Game. I would never have guessed abalone smuggling could be more profitable than drugs. However, even with all the bodies and climatic encounter with Kline, I never felt the suspense of this book or a real involvement with the characters. All the bits were there-plot, dialogue, setting--but, somehow, I just did not have a visceral connection to the story.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By booksforabuck VINE VOICE on November 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
When he see the bodies of the murdered poachers, California Fish and Game Lieutenant John Marquez can't help notice the resemblance to a torture and assassination technique he ran into while still with U.S. DEA. Everyone knows the mysterious killer is Marquez's bugaboo, but that doesn't mean that he's wrong this time. Using a web of informants every bit as noxious as the men they are informing on, Marquez and his small team of covert Fish and Game investigators try to get to the bottom of the mystery--and discover who is raiding the last of California's once vast abalone reserves. When it looks like he's getting close, however, the F.B.I. steps in and forces him to back off.
Marquez's home life is a wreck. His wife has separated from him and his stepdaughter has developed an eating disorder. His department is being crimped by California's budget crisis, and one of his best officers has announced that she's pregnant. For Marquez, this is the worst time for a big case, especially a case that puts him in conflict with the FBI and where his best lead is an ex-Navy Seal who may be the killer.
In his first novel, author Kirk Russell spins an intriguing tale of death and seafood. Because smuggling endangered species has become big business, even attracting drug smugglers and the criminal organizations that grow from the illegal and profitable. Russell's prose is dense but engaging, delving into Marquez's character and into the details of smuggling and game enforcement.
It's exciting to discover a new mystery talent and Kirk Russell is that. Check this one out and then keep an eye open for any more novels by Russell.
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