In this sequel to "Shell Games" John Marquez returns and this time he is on the hunt for bear poachers. Marquez runs a Special Operations Unit within the California Department of Fish and Game. Trafficking in bear parts and products of bears, such as bear bile, is very illegal and as such, can be very lucrative. To stop such actions, undercover operations are needed and take considerable time to build cases under intense risk to personnel.
Marquez along with his team have been undercover working a case built from a tip Marquez does not entirely trust. Clearly, somebody is trafficking in bear parts and could be connected to a bear farm and Marquez has managed to gradually work his way into a shadowy network of paranoid sellers. At the same time, he doesn't trust the snitch who gave him the tip as some of the pieces of information he passed on simply don't add up.
Along with bear trafficking, El Dorado County California seems to be having a bit of a murder problem. A couple of years ago a murder occurred and Detective Jack Kendall was unable to solve it. Now, another murder has happened and there are links between the two cases. This time a geology student, known for involving himself with pro bear support groups against bear farming, bear poaching and the like while working on his thesis was killed and his body was found in the area known as the Crystal Basin, behind Barrett Lake. Kendall wants to know everything Marquez has in case there is overlap with his case.
What follows is a strong and increasingly complex mystery much in the mode of the books written by C. J. Box. While the locations are different, the issues confronting the game wardens involved are the same. Politics also soon becomes an issue as the heard headed Kendall is much more concerned with his murder case than what Marquez and his team are doing.
As the cases lead back and forth through the high country of California, around Lake Tahoe and through Western Nevada, Marquez and his team quickly become more than characters in a book. They take on a flesh and blood substance as they work to solve a case with far reaching implications while juggling the demands of their personal off the job lives.
While occasionally a little slow in spots, the overall read is good with strong character development, multiple storylines and plenty of action moving the work forward. Readers new to this series should definitely start with the first book "Shell Games." Not only does it set up the characters, several events including how that case was resolved, are explained in detail in this novel.
Kevin R. Tipple (copyright)