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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Apt tribute to family endurance in the face of grievous loss.

A RIP IN HEAVEN

A MEMOIR OF MURDER AND ITS AFTERMATH

A wrenching tale of a notorious murder’s long echoes for its survivors.

Cummins terms her debut “both a true crime [story] and a memoir,” intending it to celebrate the lives of her young cousins, Julie and Robin Kerry, killed during a chance encounter in the summer of 1991. Traveling with her family from Washington, D.C., to vacation with relatives in St. Louis, Cummins ruefully recalls, “I thought I was tough.” On their last night in St. Louis, her older brother Tom snuck out with Julie and Robin; the rebellious 18-year-old rookie firefighter had developed a deep emotional bond with his cousins, both lovers of poetry and social justice. The trio went to the decrepit Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, where they ran into four local young men whose friendly demeanor quickly turned savage. The men beat Tom, raped Julie and Robin, then pushed all three into the raging Mississippi River. Only Tom survived, and his family’s horror was compounded when investigators inexplicably charged him with his cousins’ deaths. Tom was held for several grueling days before a flashlight found at the scene led authorities to the real killers, who quickly implicated one another. The least culpable accepted a 30-year plea; the others received death sentences. Identifying herself by her childhood nickname “Tink,” Cummins re-creates these dark events in an omniscient third-person narrative that lends the tale grim efficiency. Although her prose is occasionally purple (“Tink’s blood turned to ice and the room started to spin out from under her feet”), she succeeds overall in acquainting the reader with the horrific toll exacted by proximity to violence. The conclusion, which examines how the cruelest of the murderers became a cause célèbre thanks to his youth, offers astringent commentary on our society’s fascination with killers, who in media coverage often overshadow their victims. Cummins’s memoir does a good job of retrieving the lives of Julie and Robin from that obscurity.

Apt tribute to family endurance in the face of grievous loss.

Pub Date: June 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-451-21053-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: NAL/Berkley

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2004

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A lucid, illuminating history of the epicenter of organized crime in America.

DARK HARBOR

THE WAR FOR THE NEW YORK WATERFRONT

Former American Heritage editor Ward reveals the seedy history of the old New York waterfront, a brutal, dangerous environment ruled by corrupt union officials and the mob.

The author focuses on New York Sun investigative reporter Mike Johnson’s Pulitzer-winning series of articles in 1948, which uncovered the graft and terror tactics that characterized life on the docks. These tactics ultimately brought down International Longshoremen’s Association “president for Life” Joseph Ryan and improved conditions for the embattled workers. Packed with colorful characters including the murderous thug “Cockeye” Dunn, fearsome “Tough Tony” Anastasio, dapper Abe “Kid Twist” Reles and Charlie “The Jew” Yanowsky (who was ice-picked to death), the book reads like classic noir. Beleaguered laborers marinate in dirty saloons, murders abound, death threats fly and the nation is forced to reckon with the reality of organized crime as sensational TV government hearings drag the dirty business into the light. Arthur Miller was inspired by the murder of a reform-seeking longshoreman to write a screenplay about the milieu. More famously, writer Budd Schulberg’s take on the issue became the classic Marlon Brando film On the Waterfront (1954), whose principal characters and situations were inspired by actual people and events. Ward’s most engaging characters are the tough, streetwise priest John Corridan, a plain-talking rabble-rouser who courageously walked the docks and agitated for justice—Karl Malden memorably played the figure based on Corridan in Waterfront—and the congenitally crooked union boss Joe Ryan, a blustery operator who hid his misdeeds behind a smokescreen of anti-communist rhetoric. The author deftly marshals vast amounts of research to tell his story, including original interviews with players from the era, and he richly evokes the atmosphere of mid-century New York.

A lucid, illuminating history of the epicenter of organized crime in America.

Pub Date: June 15, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-374-28622-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2010

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