Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Book Review: Winged Obsession

Author: Jessica Speart

Title: Winged Obsession: The Pursuit of the World’s Most Notorious Butterfly Smuggler

Description (source): One of the world's most beautiful endangered species, butterflies are as lucrative as gorillas, pandas, and rhinos on the black market.
And in this cutthroat $200 million business, no one made more money than—or posed as great an ecological danger as—Yoshi Kojima, the kingpin of butterfly smugglers.
Determined to capture Kojima, rookie U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agent Ed Newcomer became close to the smuggler, posing as a young apprentice eager to learn the smuggling trade. But twice the agent's inexperience allowed this criminal, with a nearly supernatural sense of survival and an overwhelming sense of paranoia, to get away.
Just when it seemed Kojima was out of reach, Newcomer was given one last chance to reel him in. Somewhere in the hunt, Kojima had become obsessed with the agent. This obsession, along with his continued mania for butterflies, could finally spell the downfall of the untouchable smuggler.
But the story doesn't end there. Working under-cover to research this book, Jessica Speart befriended Kojima as well. Like Newcomer, she was going to betray Kojima. What she didn't know was that this cagey smuggler was planning to turn the tables and use her as a patsy for continuing his illegal butterfly trade. (cover copy)

ARC source: Library Thing early reviewers

Writing style: Engaging, but can be awkward (especially when the author is inserting quotes from those not involved in the action). I question whether there was really enough material here for a book—from about the midpoint on, it just seemed to be one Skype session after another.

Audience: I include the “audience” in my reviews because if the book isn’t one I would normally read, I might review it more harshly just because of that, so it’s only fair to note. This book, though, would be one I would pick up, based on its description and on the fact that it sounds like The Orchid Thief, which I really liked. This book would appeal to environmentalists and perhaps those interested in true crime (although it’s not exactly lurid).

Wrap-up: I had to compare this book with The Orchid Thief, since I read the latter less than a year ago and since the books have so much in common. I’m afraid that Winged Obsession suffers in the comparison. Susan Orlean is one of the main characters in The Orchid Thief. The book essentially follows her as she learns about the world of orchids and meets the various key players. Jessica Speart is not in Winged Obsession at all—until the last chapter, when the point of view suddenly changes to first-person. I can understand why she wanted to meet Yoshi, but structurally, this didn’t work for me.  Her intrusion into the narrative feels forced and uneven compared to the rest of the book. Another difference between The Orchid Thief and Winged Obsession is that Orlean writes from nature a lot. She visits the Everglades several times. She goes to orchid shows and describes orchid-gathering adventures. Winged Obsession is primarily set in Newcomer’s bedroom, mainly covering Skype session after Skype session. The only outdoor scenes were in relation to a different case. This book was a quick read, but I wouldn’t seek it out for quality of writing or story. 3/5

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