Murder by the Bay: PW Talks with Kirk Russell
By Lenny Picker
Aug 12, 2011
Kirk Russell, author of four novels about California Department of Fish and Game warden John Marquez, introduces San Francisco homicide inspector Ben Raveneau in A Killing in China Basin.
Q: You succeeded in breaking new ground with your Marquez books. How do you think the Raveneau series will distinguish itself?
A: I don't know that it will. The big city detective has been written a thousand times and sometimes very, very well. I wanted to try to make a homicide inspector who fits the times and who might be real, and if he was, you'd want to know him. And I want to write San Francisco. I lived around it most of my life. There's this first book, and a second next winter, and between the two that's enough, I think, to tell if Raveneau will catch on. I'm still getting a feel for the character.
Q: What about San Francisco as a setting appeals to you?
A: The city's presence, how it sits nearly surrounded by water at the end of a peninsula, bridges reaching toward it, and the feel that it is a place you go to, not from. There's the light and the way it changes and a natural moodiness and brilliance. As a city, it's international in a way that you can't sell with a motivated Chamber of Commerce. It's a tolerant city, still carrying the gold rush fever, a place people arrive at to start over or start a new company, or in the case of crime fiction become someone else. And a homicide inspector in San Francisco can cover the whole city because it's not particularly large.
Q: What was the origin of the Marquez series?
A: Marquez was in a subplot in a novel called Tangelo that never made it into print. Right from the start Marquez upstaged the protagonist, and when I gave up hoping Tangelo would sell, it dawned on me I should write Marquez. California has one undercover Fish and Game team, the SOU, Special Operations Unit, and I researched their work firsthand. I did a number of ride-alongs, trailed suspects, saw busts and illegal deals. The three species in California that account for $125 million a year in black market trafficking are abalone, sturgeon, and bear, and my first three Marquez novels dealt with them.
Q: Could the two series ever cross over?
A: Paths could cross, sure. But I'm kind of leery of that. It's fun to see different characters in a writer's series brush against each other, but it also seems to dilute the drink.