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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Exploitative and sad.

EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE

A TRUE STORY OF OBSESSION, REVENGE, AND MURDER

Bestselling true-crime specialist Rule (Bitter Harvest, 1998, etc.) certainly has her fans, but here her leering, hyperventilating style is merely distasteful. The story at its center is tragic. Sheila Bellush met handsome, slippery Allen Blackthorne, fell in love, and married him when she was much too young. Allen turned out to be trouble. He beat her, he cross-dressed, he ripped off her parents and everyone around him. Eventually, Sheila got away, but years later Allen tracked her down and had her murdered; he was caught, convicted, and went to jail. In between, Allen became a millionaire, Sheila had quadruplets, they both remarried, and everyone moved to San Antonio. Rule doesn’t omit a single tawdry detail; between the two of them, Allen and Sheila have so many dissipated relatives and face so many assorted disasters that it’s impossible to keep them all straight. Any sense of reality gets lost in this bloated, exaggerated, highly condescending retelling, which reads less like nonfiction than the script for a made-for-TV movie. Rule’s claim that Sheila’s sister sought her out and told her Sheila had wanted her to write about the case seems, to put it mildly, self-aggrandizing.

Exploitative and sad.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2001

ISBN: 0-7432-0296-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2001

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A disturbing, haunting account of a sexual predator.

The Last Victim

A true-crime account of a forgotten but horrific monster terrorizing the United States, written by one of the police officers responsible for his capture.

William E. Griffith had a troubled childhood and difficult teenage years, growing up to become a moderately successful traveling salesman. His job enabled him to practice his second life as a voyeur and serial rapist—one who remained active for nearly 30 years. Former police officer Rudy and writing partner Davis detail Griffith’s crimes, mistakes, victims and ultimately his capture and incarceration. The authors rely on police reports and personal memory in reconstructing the background, methods, habits and deeds of Griffith, who’s now behind bars. The subject operated by prowling towns in the Midwest for the homes of women, often single mothers, and he’d watch them from a distance while masturbating. His behavior soon escalated, and he became increasingly dangerous: Knife in hand and face covered by a ski mask, he broke into women’s houses and raped them while their children slept. It’s a chilling, disturbing report, but Rudy and Davis don’t linger on the horrific details as some true crime authors do. Equal time is given to Griffith, the police department’s decades-long search and Griffith’s victims. Intimately portraying the victims’ lives discourages readers from becoming inured to the violence and the long-term effects of being attacked. The book, which reads like a long-form journalism, has a purpose: The authors want to ensure that Griffith (who’s incarcerated for at least another seven years) is never released. While not ideal for bedtime reading, it’s a powerful and convincing narrative.

A disturbing, haunting account of a sexual predator.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-1468017601

Page Count: 154

Publisher: WhoDunIt LLC

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

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