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FICTIONAL GAME WARDEN FOCUS OF NOVELS.

Byline: Bill Becher Special to the Daily News

There's a new sleuth in town.

Author Kirk Russell has launched a series of crime novels that feature fictional game warden John Marquez, a former DEA agent, who runs an undercover Special Operations Unit for the California Department of Fish and Game.

Russell, who lives in Berkeley, visited Southern California recently to promote the second book in the series, ``Night Game.'' He took time for a mountain bike ride in Sycamore Canyon and talked about his new career as a novelist.

An outdoors kind of guy, Russell has done hang gliding in the Sierra, mountain biking, skiing and many miles of backpacking. After graduating from Cal, Russell wanted to write, but building houses during college turned into a large construction business and the years flew by.

When it was time to try writing again, Russell decided that mystery novels was a way to get published and still have an opportunity to talk about what mattered to him.

``Crime fiction is a great venue for social issues,'' Russell said. ``It's a great way to show an aspect of how we live.''

Russell had tried writing about an amateur detective and a private investigator, but it wasn't working. While researching a plot element about abalone poaching, he contacted the DFG and learned about the Special Operations Unit, which targets commercial poachers. Russell traveled with the DFG wardens, saw sting operations, arrests, visited safe houses and went along on surveillances and stakeouts.

``These are people doing something I care a lot about,'' Russell said.

In ``Shell Games,'' Russell writes about an abalone-poaching ring. But when two murdered divers surface, along with thousands of abalone shells, Marques and his team realize that there is more than poaching going on. This first book received praise from critics and other crime writers.

``Loaded with atmosphere,'' Kirkus Reviews wrote.

His second book, ``Night Game,'' is about bear poaching and murder in Northern California.

Russell is working on his next book, which involves sturgeon caviar in the Delta and Russian mobsters.

Who says being a fish cop is dull?

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 11, 2004
Words:355
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