Winged Obsession by Jessica Speart

Nonfiction — print. William Marrow, 2011. 308 pgs. Advanced Review Copy.

Subtitled “The Pursuit of the World’s Most Notorious Butterfly Smuggler”, Speart’s book details the attempts of rookie U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agent Ed Newcomer to capture the kingpin of butterfly smugglers, Yoshi Kojima. One of the world’s most beautiful but 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 — Kojima.

Determined to capture Kojima, 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 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.

Despite how beautiful I find this cover, it was an interview with the author that propelled me to request it from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program. Now that I have read the book I am so happy the interview caught my attention and that I was lucky enough to receive a copy.

I enjoy photographing butterflies and always pause during hikes to stop and admire their beauty. But I have never understood why people would want to take something so beautiful and kill it for the sake of mounting it on a wall. Speart explains how Kojima is motivated by greed and obsession rather than the “love” of butterflies he claims to have, and although she does not delve into the feeling of the purchaser, her book makes for an incredibly compelling work of narrative nonfiction. Makes me want to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency!

I can’t even identify the butterflies I do photograph so I appreciated the information about butterflies Speart imparted upon the reader. Not enough to overwhelm or loose sight of the true purpose of the novel, but just enough to just enough to help me understand butterflies better and the complex world of international butterfly smuggling.

Despite having the international agreement the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in place, enforcement policies and power vary from country to country. Some countries like Japan, according to Speart, seem to turn a blind eye to the smuggling of endangered butterflies while others like the United States place it low on totem pole for the distribution of resources and manpower.

I actually found this crime drama to bee much more engaging and thrilling than a book labeled as a mystery by my public library I read recently. Certainly kept me turning the pages! This book reads more like a fictional novel, and I found myself thinking about the book when I was forced to put it down.

Speart is also the author of a mystery series featuring U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agent Rachel Porter. I will now be certain to check out her fictional series based on my experience with this book.

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