Economies of Scales

February 22, 2009
By Ryan

Though this book’s jacket notes the author was, among other indignities, “sprayed by a bird-eating tarantula” and “ejaculated on by a Bengal tiger,” it doesn’t hold as many up-close and bizarre wildlife encounters as it seems to promise. To be fair, the book’s subhead emphasizes “reptile smugglers” (not the animals themselves), and I’d be lying if I said there weren’t animals on practically every page, but I guess I was hoping for more.

A friend who knew I was reading this book asked me to tell him some of the crazier smuggling schemes. Komodo dragons, for instance. How do smugglers get them in the country? At the time, no such animals had yet crawled across the pages I was reading. When the author finally did mention an incident involving Komodo dragon smuggling, the only details about the endeavor explained the beasts were babies, they came in suitcases, and one grew up to make headlines for biting Phil Bronstein’s foot. Funny, but again, I guess I was hoping for more.

On the whole, The Lizard King is an amazing piece of research. An author’s note explains the vast treasure troves of private notes, transcripts, court documents, interviews, and journals scoured to create such a complete story. And the topic is fascinating.

Bryan Christy, an ex-lawyer, is a talented writer with an eye for scene-setting detail, though the occasional simile seemed a bit forced. Take, “He was six foot four and lean, with dark hair and eyes as blue as the feathers on a hyacinth macaw.” It fits the exotic-animal angle of the book, but I don’t immediately know what shade of blue that is. (A quick Google search reveals: cobalt.)

Also, I couldn’t resist noting this line from an account of a raid involving a reptile business’ employees and customers: “‘No talking!’ an agent yelled, and the customer clammed up; afterward, he would never be seen again.” In the shop? By anyone? I’m guessing it’s the former, but it sounds sinister enough to be the latter.

If these complaints sound nitpicky, it’s because they are. I did enjoy this book (a requested present for my birthday) and I don’t mean to be too harsh on it. I’ll just say it a third time: I guess I was hoping for more. More what? Yeah, I’m not totally sure, but I think it involved snakes.

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