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Dead Game: A John Marquez Crime Novel    by Kirk Russell order for
Dead Game
by Kirk Russell
Order:  USA  Can
Chronicle, 2005 (2005)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In this 3rd in a series, ex-DEA agent John Marquez runs a shrinking (via ongoing budget cuts) California Fish and Game undercover unit, investigating the shady but lucrative business of sturgeon poaching (and caviar extraction). The team's mission is 'to stop the commercialization of wildlife.' Early in the novel, a woman working undercover for Marquez, Anna Burdovsky, disappears after her cell-hone conversation with him is suddenly interrupted. The mystery of Anna's fate carries through the story.

Marquez works hard against a deadline (when his unit is to be disbanded) to get close to violent Russian immigrant Nick Ludovna, whose fingers seem to be in many illegal ventures. Marquez deals with frightened informant, Abe Raburn. He works with Sacramento County detective Brian Selke on Anna's disappearance. Selke uncovers a Russian connection, to Anna's gangster ex-husband and the son who remains under his control. When a woman's body is found in a sunken refrigerator, Marquez muses how unlikely it was 'that in the history of the world there had ever been a species crueler than his own.'

In parallel with his investigation, we see Marquez the family man, trying to work the shaky relationship between his somewhat controlling wife Katherine and his teen stepdaughter Maria. He patiently dispenses sage advice. As his case develops, Marquez bumps into an overlap with a big FBI weapons smuggling case, and is repeatedly warned off, though he also develops a good relationship with the agent in charge, Stan Ehrmann. Further deaths include that of someone close to Marquez, and others for which he feels responsible. His undercover role puts his own life at risk.

Kirk Russell writes a solid procedural that reminds me somehwhat of Archer Mayor's Joe Gunther series. Though the plot, which develops slowly and steadily, is interesting, I enjoyed Dead Game mostly for its wildlife advocacy and for the wisdom Marquez showed in dealing with his teen stepdaughter Maria.

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