Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stolen World by Jennie Smith

Two full-time jobs and various home remodeling projects have taken a toll on my reading, but never-less I endure.
I don't usually post about non-fiction books, unless they have something to do with the fiction I do read. However, Stolen World has the feel of a pulp adventure from the 1930's. In one volume you have reptile-obsessed collectors, fauna smugglers, and people risking death or imprisonment just to find the rarest of all snakes. I kept expecting Doc Savage to make an appearance and send all the perpetrators flying into the next chapter. Stranger yet, the events in this book start in the distant years of 1970 and continue to the present day.
Subtitled " A Tale of Reptiles, Smugglers, and Skulduggery", Stolen World is a book which focuses on the universe of people fascinated by snakes. Fascinated to the point of having their interests in our scaly friends dominate every aspect of their life. Fascinated to the extent of illegally importing rare iguanas at the risk of doing jail time. And some of them end up spending years behind bars.
Two men are the focus of this book: Hank Molt and Tommy Crutchfield. Molt started out selling Kraft Food products around Philadelphia, turned his herpetology hobby into a full time job, was imprisoned for importing endangered species, but bounced back again and again as a snake expert. Cructchfield ran a reptile emporium in Florida, fled the country to avoid charges against him for smuggling iguanas from Fiji, but is still a respected expert in his field. Along the way, we get to witness red boa hunts in the Dominican Republic and thefts of rare turtles.
What makes the book stand out is the author's fascination with her subjects. For all the wretchedness of them, these are people who truly love reptiles. The same man who can beat his own brother senseless can gaze in wonder at a small lizard. You can't help to be astonished reading about a man who figures out a way to care for rare African vipers.
I just wish the book came with some decent illustrations. It would have been nice to have seen a photo of a Fly River turtle. An index would've helped too.


  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog. Thought I'd check out you Fessier review and saw this. I read a very similar book two years ago: The Lizard King by Bryan Christy. Excellent! Had no idea that smuggling rare animals was such a lucrative, sophisticated and cutthroat (literally!) criminal business. Christy's book was published first in 2009 but a small press (Twelve) usually loses out over a publisher like Crown. They sound like exactly the same book to me.

  2. Thanks. As I have often said, there are worlds out there we do not know. I'm sure a book is waiting to be written about people who obsess over 16mm movie prints.