Somewhat thin on dialogue and heavy on hearsay, this riveting volume nonetheless captures in vibrant prose the dynamic...

THE LIZARD KING

THE TRUE CRIMES AND PASSIONS OF THE WORLD’S GREATEST REPTILE SMUGGLERS

Cold-blooded illegal immigrants, from $30 pet-store iguanas to $10,000 albino snakes, creep and crawl through freelance journalist Christy’s thorough exploration of the far-flung illicit-reptile trade.

Covering with equal aplomb the intricacies of both endangered-species history and international law, the author details the intersecting trajectories of Mike Van Nostrand, a major-league reptile smuggler, and his nemesis, Chip Bepler of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 1992, newly relocated rookie Bepler was dispatched to investigate a captured shipment of turtles smuggled into Miami. Van Nostrand’s dubious wholesale outfit, Strictly Reptiles, was almost certainly the final destination of those turtles, but proving it was another matter. The case launched Bepler’s career obsession: capturing a fleet kingpin who through legal loopholes continuously outfoxed Fish and Wildlife. While exploring the human passions of both smugglers and their law-enforcement counterparts, globetrotting Christy introduces us to a colorful, if seedy cast of characters. It includes Malaysia’s Anson Wong, “the Pablo Escobar of the live reptile trade,” and Henry Molt, “the godfather of American reptile smuggling,” who began importing in the early 1960s when the reptile fad took root. Fad eventually exploded into frenzy with the 1993 release of Jurassic Park, whose big bad reptiles (somewhat counter-intuitively) sparked an “iguana craze.” Pet iguanas flourished, and reptiles of all kinds became the fetish of hobbyists and breeders of every stripe; the craze spawned crossbreeding, designer reptile fashions and a multimillion dollar trade in rare species, many threatened by extinction. The author illuminates the trade’s clever tricks: boarding planes with socks full of baby snakes lining pant legs, secret luggage compartments, laundering animals through second countries to avert the law, and more.

Somewhat thin on dialogue and heavy on hearsay, this riveting volume nonetheless captures in vibrant prose the dynamic personalities and habits of its human and reptilian subjects.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-446-58095-3

Page Count: 242

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2008

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At times slow-going, but the riveting period detail and dramatic flair eventually render this tale an animated history...

THUNDERSTRUCK

A murder that transfixed the world and the invention that made possible the chase for its perpetrator combine in this fitfully thrilling real-life mystery.

Using the same formula that propelled Devil in the White City (2003), Larson pairs the story of a groundbreaking advance with a pulpy murder drama to limn the sociological particulars of its pre-WWI setting. While White City featured the Chicago World’s Fair and America’s first serial killer, this combines the fascinating case of Dr. Hawley Crippen with the much less gripping tale of Guglielmo Marconi’s invention of radio. (Larson draws out the twin narratives for a long while before showing how they intersect.) Undeniably brilliant, Marconi came to fame at a young age, during a time when scientific discoveries held mass appeal and were demonstrated before awed crowds with circus-like theatricality. Marconi’s radio sets, with their accompanying explosions of light and noise, were tailor-made for such showcases. By the early-20th century, however, the Italian was fighting with rival wireless companies to maintain his competitive edge. The event that would bring his invention back into the limelight was the first great crime story of the century. A mild-mannered doctor from Michigan who had married a tempestuously demanding actress and moved to London, Crippen became the eye of a media storm in 1910 when, after his wife’s “disappearance” (he had buried her body in the basement), he set off with a younger woman on an ocean-liner bound for America. The ship’s captain, who soon discerned the couple’s identity, updated Scotland Yard (and the world) on the ship’s progress—by wireless. The chase that ends this story makes up for some tedious early stretches regarding Marconi’s business struggles.

At times slow-going, but the riveting period detail and dramatic flair eventually render this tale an animated history lesson.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2006

ISBN: 1-4000-8066-5

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2006

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Smart hopes that sharing her story might help heal the scars of others, though the book is focused on what she suffered...

MY STORY

The inspirational and ultimately redemptive story of a teenage girl’s descent into hell, framed as a parable of faith.

The disappearance of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart in 2002 made national headlines, turning an entire country into a search party; it seemed like something of a miracle when she reappeared, rescued almost by happenstance, nine months later. As the author suggests, it was something of a mystery that her ordeal lasted that long, since there were many times when she was close to being discovered. Her captors, a self-proclaimed religious prophet whose sacraments included alcohol, pornography and promiscuous sex, and his wife and accomplice, jealous of this “second wife” he had taken, weren’t exactly criminal masterminds. In fact, his master plan was for similar kidnappings to give him seven wives in all, though Elizabeth’s abduction was the only successful one. She didn’t write her account for another nine years, at which point she had a more mature perspective on the ordeal, and with what one suspects was considerable assistance from co-author Stewart, who helps frame her story and fill in some gaps. Though the account thankfully spares readers the graphic details, Smart tells of the abuse and degradation she suffered, of the fear for her family’s safety that kept her from escaping and of the faith that fueled her determination to survive. “Anyone who suggests that I became a victim of Stockholm syndrome by developing any feelings of sympathy for my captors simply has no idea what was going on inside my head,” she writes. “I never once—not for a single moment—developed a shred of affection or empathy for either of them….The only thing there ever was was fear.”

Smart hopes that sharing her story might help heal the scars of others, though the book is focused on what she suffered rather than how she recovered.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-250-04015-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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