From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this very disturbing and very entertaining chronicle of reptile smugglers, the collectors and zoo keepers who trade with them, and the federal agents who try to catch them, the humans are as devious, dangerous, and creepily charming as the cold-blooded creatures they lust after. Science reporter Smith bases her book on extensive original interviews with two smugglers: Henry Molt Jr. is a reptile dealer who, in the 1960s, unable to get a job with a zoo, began a lifelong career of reptile collecting involving restless international travel, partner-stiffing, and jail time, with an undaunted enthusiasm that's survived into his 60s: "The reptile business ÿis a disease,' he said, and you can't retire from a disease." Equally outrageous is the volatile, knife-wielding Tommy Crutchfield, who expanded his childhood alligator-and-snake business into a million-dollar empire of reptile hunting and dealing. Even the curators of the Bronx and San Diego zoos let their obsession with the animals lure them into deals in order to obtain illegally imported rare breeds. Smith's affection for these unsavory people gives the book an intriguing moral ambiguity (which might make some environmentalists cringe), but the subculture's brazen shenanigans make for a convoluted, fascinating tale. (Jan.)
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Smith wades into the dark world of animal smuggling with this look at the decades-long careers of a couple of reptile enthusiasts and subsequent black market traders. Readers will make immediate comparisons to the The Orchid Thief (1999) as Hank Molt and Tommy Crutchfield share their experiences tracking animals all over the world and then selling them to willing buyers (including zoos) who were all too aware of the illegality of the transactions. Smith’s account is quite compelling and highly readable, but it should be approached with a degree of caution. Although she states that the content was “derived from interviews and court documents,” the absence of cited sources leaves one in doubt regarding the veracity of the details. Smith walks a fine line, telling a gripping story that provides a window onto a largely invisible subculture in the annals of collecting while raising questions as to the ratio of “creative“ versus “nonfiction“ in this nearly thriller-like chronicle. --Colleen Mondor