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

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

by Jessica Speart

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Overview

In the tradition of The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean comes Winged Obsession—a gripping, real-life thriller that exposes the seedy underbelly of illegal butterfly trading. An acclaimed mystery writer and respected journalist specializing in wildlife issues, author Jessica Speart tells an extraordinary but true tale of greed, obsession, and sexual temptation, masterfully chronicling the downfall of the “Indiana Jones of insects” through the determined efforts of a rookie Fish and Wildlife agent who put his life on the line to stop him.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061772443
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/27/2012
Pages: 316
Sales rank: 1,062,115
Product dimensions: 5.34(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

A freelance journalist specializing in wildlife enforcement issues, Jessica Speart has been published in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, OMNI, Travel & Leisure, Audubon, and many other publications. She is the author of several mysteries and lives in Connecticut.

What People are Saying About This

Lisa Scottoline

Winged Obsession is an unputdownable thriller.... I loved this book!

Lee Child

Meet the Hannibal Lecter of the conservation world... this expose reads like a thriller and proves once again that truth is stranger than fiction.

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Winged Obsession: The Pursuit of the World's Most Notorious Butterfly Smuggler 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
mldg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This nonfiction account about butterfly smuggling starts out with a bang. I was sucked into the story right from the start. However, the book bogs down somewhat in the middle. I learned a lot about the Fish and Wildlife Service. The book shines light on the difficulties agents face when trying to bring environmental criminals to justice. The chapter that anthropomorphized the sex acts of butterflies seemed out of place. But maybe not considering the story is about obsession. The smuggler's and the agent's.At the end the author steps into the story to wrap things up from the smuggler's point of view. That was a little disconcerting, too.I did like the book overall, but think it might have benefited from one more rewrite.
cathyskye on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First Line: "Hey, what does your guy look like again?"This book is the best of all possible worlds: non-fiction that is eye-opening, mind-blowing, and reads like the best fiction. It details rookie U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agent Ed Newcomer's three-year-long quest to nab Hisayoshi Kojima, the "one-man demolition derby" of butterfly collecting. The wily Japanese was an environmental nightmare, able to "acquire endangered butterflies that not even museums or university collections could obtain."Perhaps it was the setting in which I chose to read this book-- outside in my back garden being able to watch butterflies floating from flower to flower-- that made it have such an impact on me. Something tells me that it was much more than that. Jessica Speart, author of a mystery series featuring U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agent Rachel Porter, is a freelance journalist specializing in wildlife enforcement issues. In her research for the book, she met and talked with Kojima several times-- almost succumbing to the man's charm herself.She builds suspense chapter by chapter as she shares her knowledge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the monumental obstacles it faces in an attempt to uphold the law and to protect wildlife. And if you think butterflies are unimportant bugs, think again. Smuggling them brings in millions of dollars of ill-gotten profits each year.This is all vital information, but what really made me devour this book in one sitting is the cat-and-mouse game played by Agent Ed Newcomer and smuggler Yoshi Kojima. Speart writes with knowledge and passion and makes both men live and breathe on the page. I felt every bit as invested in the outcome as the two "players" themselves.
acornell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Parts of this journalistic account of a Fish and Game undercover agent's exploits in the the world of insect smuggling are interesting but many parts are just down right dull.Yoshi Kojima is an eccentric man who makes his living (and a pretty substantial one at that) dealing in endangered butterflies and insects. Agent Ed Newcomer is out to bring him down. Understanding the butterfly and insect trading world and the life of an undercover agent in the most unappreciated division of law enforcement held my attention. I think anyone would enjoy the general set up to the problems and the day to day life of the agent and also the nefarious world of illegal bug trading.Once the writer got to the daily and weekly machinations of the sting (which was easily half of the 300 page book) I lost complete interest. I had very hard time focusing on which butterflies were which, who told which lies, when agent Newcomer was supposed to call and Skype his prey and all the petty comings and goings of the the agent and the butterfly dealer. I kept wanting to scream, "just arrest the guy already!" The author, Jessica Speart, wrote this book without mention of herself at all. It was totally third person with no over arching voice of the narrator, how she got all her information and how she could tell the story so thoroughly from a third person perspective. The last chapter ended that voice and introduced us to a first person view of the author and how she went to get an interview with Kojima after he was released from prison and sent home to Japan. I found this an odd chapter and while in some ways it was the most interesting, it was also the most misleading.The author is worried the Kojima will not talk to her, so she lies to him about being interested in his shop, and she basically goes undercover and asks him all kinds of questions about the agent and about the illegal butterfly trade. Huh? Undercover journalist as well? It also begged the question, if this was the only contact she had with him, how did she seem to know what he was thinking and feeling throughout the book.So while this was not my favorite Early Review book, and I personally did not enjoy it, someone may like the stories of butterfly smuggling and undercover work.
justmelissa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As a fan of Jessica Speart's Fish and Wildlife mystery series and a reader of interesting narrative nonfiction, I was really looking forward to reading this book. Content-wise, Winged Obsession didn't disappoint. Learning about the inner-workings of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, especially from the perspective of an undercover agent was great. Understanding the dark side of obsessive butterfly and beetle collecting was fascinating, Ed Newcomer, the agent featured in the books became almost as obsessed with capturing famed butterfly smuggler Yoshi Kajima as Yoshi was with collecting rare and endangered butterflies. However, technically I never "clicked" with this book. My biggest complaint is the author's choice to tell the story from the third person omniscient perspective. Though she seems to have extensively interviewed the agent and various other involved parties while investigating the story, it's clear she never (directly or indirectly) captured Yoshi's version of events. However, she still regularly inserts his thoughts, feelings, and fears into the text. Having not interviewed him, it¿s impossible for her to accurately report encounters from Yoshi¿s point of view. Though this is a common writing approach when writing fiction, nonfiction doesn't allow the author take such liberties. I also struggled with some of the tense changes and the overall flow of the book. In particular, the middle section recounting the endless and repetitive Skype conversations between Agent Newcomer and Yoshi really dragged. In general, I think a firm-handed editor could have fixed the majority of these problems.Bottom line, while reading this book I kept thinking that this is exactly the kind of book I, as an avid reader and researcher but not writer, could have written: factually correct, technically flawed. I will stick to Speart's fiction in the future.
sarah-e on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am on the fence with this book. I have enjoyed some other true crime stories about thieves and smugglers, so the idea of this book appealed to me. It does deliver an exciting and informative account of how a US Fish and Wildlife agent outsmarted a smuggler (and butterfly killer!).The issue that puts me on the fence then, and has kept me from saying simply that I enjoyed the book is the showy, overwrought writing style. Aside from corny and unrealistic dialogue, the writing is also overrun with cliches. Take the following as an example of the style found on every page: "OLE was in the process of being pulled by its bootstraps out of the Dark Ages and dragged kicking and screaming into modern times" (p. 74). Three cliches in one sentence, which I found to be all too typical of the writing.One aspect of the story itself did put me off. At least one whole chapter is devoted entirely to the special agent's case involving pigeon club members killing hawks. Perhaps I found this particularly disturbing because seeing a hawk on my daily commute never fails to thrill me, but some details of how these animals are tortured were too graphic for me. And of course, this case has absolutely nothing to do with the butterfly smuggler, except that the same agent works it. So the author may have wanted to write more about this agent's cases, but a good deal of stylistic restraint and attempting to tell a single story would have benefitted this book.The story itself was so good at times I could barely put it down. The author tried too hard to embellish an already interesting story and it comes off as distractingly overwritten. Recommended for the story, but with a note to be aware of the ornate, wordy style.
PamelaBarrett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ed Newcomer, an inexperienced US Fish and Wildlife agent, was still establishing himself when he comes up against a seasoned Japanese smuggler of endangered Butterflies. The notorious Yoshi Kojima claimed to be the ¿Indiana Jones of insects¿and had eluded capture many times; that is until he met Ed who was undercover at the Bug Fair in the Los Angeles Natural History Museum. Ed, posing as a naïve young novice of insect collecting, caught Yoshi¿s attention and befriended him. During the months ahead Yoshi, who is attracted to Ed, let¿s his guard down and brings Ed into his confidence. Winged Obsession is a fast paced read, and it¿s packed full of wonderful descriptions of rare butterflies, but I have to warn you, that for the smugglers collecting butterflies isn¿t just about their beauty, it¿s about the money and they are ruthless when it comes to what they want. Yoshi is smart, cunning and sleazy. My skin crawled at Jessica¿s descriptions of where he lived surrounded by insects, and his overt sexual comments towards Ed. There is more to this true story; it is also about the US Wildlife Service and their frustrations at lenient laws, and lack of funding to stop the smugglers. Then there is the author¿s story of befriending Yoshi before publishing this book. Well written and very interesting.
Philotera on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fish and Wildlife had never seemed like a glamorous job until now. Suddenly, those folks monitoring the salmon spawning grounds have a James Bond air to them.I was immediately hooked by this book, and fascinated to see how, and if, Newcomer would catch his man. I was intrigued by the histories of ther butterfly theives, and to learn about the infighting and the delicate world butterflies live in.While I've never been an insect fan, and my knowledge of the winged creatures tends toward the "Oh, pretty. Butterfly or moth" category, it was interesting to me to learn about their (appalling to us) mating habits, the fragility of the habitats, and what a big business they are. I was a little mystified by the intrusion of Newcomer's second case involving pigeon fanciers and hawks. I thought more space was given to that then was strictly necessary, but in the long run, I felt it did heighten the tension to show that he did have other cases and that therefore it was more dramatic to see whether he would succeed in catching Yoshi. In the long run, I decided it didn't bother me that much.I found this to be delicously fascinating, and full of interesting creepy details about the butterfly thieves and their world. One which I would otherwise never have gotten a peek into.
JessiAdams on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This story follows an undercover agent as he tries to collect evidence against a substantial butterfly smuggler. Although the story was interesting, and easy to follow, I think it could have used just a little more editing.I thought that the factual information about the butterflies was interesting, and perhaps more should have been included. The bulk of the information about butterflies was included in one small, oddly placed section of the book. It didn't flow very well with the story before or after it, it just seemed like someone picked it up and glued it there.A significant amount of time was also spent on the other cases that the agent was handling at the time. These were also interesting, but not related to the butterflies. It felt like the author would have been better off writing about the agent rather than the butterfly smuggler if she'd wanted to include so much information on his other cases. While interesting, it distracted from the main story.Overall, however, I enjoyed reading this book. It was infomative and fascinating. Its a very quick read, both because of the short length of the book, and also because its so easy to stay interested in the story. Although it drifts off-topic quite a bit, I would still recommend it.
mchwest on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Oh my, just couldn't finish the book. The beginning started out fast, lots of facts about butterflies, and a chapter in the middle filled with more facts, but it just felt like it was plopped in. I liked the writing but really couldn't they just arrest him 2 or 3 times before? Will put it aside and try again, or pass it on to a friend.
agirlandherbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jessica Speart's tale of butterfly smuggler Yoshi Kojima and Ed Newcomer, the US Fish & Wildlife agent who devoted his career to capturing him, reads like fiction. Kojima uses flattery, flirtation and backstabbing in his attempts to use Newcomer as a US-based seller of the rare butterflies he claims to love, but has no compunction about eradicating, in his quest for fortune. However, Newcomer is able to maintain his butterfly-collector alter ego long enough to capture Kojima and stop his illegal trade -- although, when Speart manages to snag an interview with him in Japan, Kojima tries to lure her into fronting for him so he can return to the business. An excellent tale that illustrates the importance of protecting and saving our natural world.
gaijinsue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Think "The Orchid Thief" with butterflies. And then think People magazine, as opposed to The New Yorker (the magazine that The Orchid Thief author Susan Orlean writes for).Speart, a mystery writer by trade, takes a populist approach in this true-life story about a U. S. Field and Wildlife agent's pursuit of Yoshi Kojima, "the world's most notorious butterfly smuggler." Thus, the butterflies are frequently compared to popular figures such as Angelina Jolie and Beyonce, and imbued with human traits. There's a fairly graphic account of "rape" among butterflies. If you can deal with artistic license, then read on.Speart gives her subject a novelistic treatment. She presents Newcomer (the agent) and Kojima as characters, and even shares their thoughts, although she couldn't possibly know what Kojima and Newcomer were thinking at every moment. When Speart injects herself into the story later on, the omniscient narrator suddenly becomes first person. Speart, I have to say, is more upfront about the liberties that she takes than, say, James Frey or Greg Mortenson, and it IS a good story - weird, compelling,and perfect for Hollywood. I've already cast Ben Stiller as Agent Newcomer and I think Ken Watanabe could deliver a perfectly creepy but successful Japanese businessman.
jnavia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a fascinating book! The writing is pretty bad, like a poorly-written pot-boiler, but I had to keep reading it to find out how Yoshi Kojima, the "kingpin of butterfly smugglers" was caught. Speart writes about Fish and Wildlife agent Ed Newcomer's three-year undercover work in trying to get enough evidence against Kojima to arrest him. Kojima comes across as a thoroughly dislikable creep, not only because he kills and sells endangered butterflies, but for other reasons as well (which I'll let you read about). The Kojima case wasn't the only case Newcomer worked on in the three years since he started that case. He also worked undercover on a case involving the killing of hawks by roller pigeon enthusiasts. Roller pigeons, which I'd never heard of, are pigeons bred specifically for a genetic defect that makes them tumble in the air while flying. They fly, then roll, correct themselves, and fly again. They are easy prey for hawks and other raptors, so many owners kill hawks. Newcomer's undercover work in this area was almost as fascinating as his undercover work with Kojima.If I could give this book five stars for content, I would. But the writing was so clichéd that if it had been a novel, I'd have flung it to the floor after reading, on page 8, "This thing [a Queen Alexander butterfly, displayed on Kojima's website] had to be the Angelina Jolie of the butterfly world." Every page is like that. Maybe I'm just a snob when it comes to good writing.
readaholic12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jessica Speart¿s Winged Obsession offers a glimpse into the lives of an international butterfly smuggler, Yoshi Kojima, and the Fish and Wildlife undercover agent, Ed Newcomer, who catches him after three years of hard work. Interwoven in this story is Newcomer¿s undercover work to catch pigeon racers who kill hawks to protect their flocks. Both of these story lines provide a shocking and sad portrayal of human disregard for the lives of protected species for profit or for sport, as well as the frustrating lack of resources or meaningful laws to deter these criminals. Comparisons to The Orchid Thief are inevitable, from the quirky characters, the obsession to find and collect a rare thing, and the author's presence as a character in the story. The author is at her best when providing factual, background information on declining butterfly populations, the illegal trade of protected species, the beauty of the varied butterflies, the mania of the collectors who covet them and the dedication of the officials who try to catch the lawbreakers. She is particularly adept at describing the filth and horror inside Kojima's homes, and was able to make my skin crawl in several passages. The author is at her worst when using cliché-riddled passages to describe the interactions, dialog or thoughts of her characters, particularly in the early stages of the book. That said, the bizarre life and actions of Kojima and the dogged pursuit of him by Newcomer, and the story itself make this a book worth reading for anyone with a love of nature and butterflies, and anyone who enjoys a suspenseful mysterious read. I finished this book with a renewed appreciation for the hardships facing endangered species and a lingering curiosity about the mysterious and deceptive Kojima.
allenkl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Winged Obsession is a surprisingly dark thriller. I had no idea butterfly smuggling even existed. I have gardened for many years with the intention of providing nectar and egg laying plants to attract butterflies. I must admit I've always been disturbed by the notion of killing these lovely creatures and pinning their brilliant bodies to a box. Little did I know what this entails for many obsessed collectors including thousands of dollars and leading to the extinction of entire species.The book seemed to drag through about the middle, the author could have made her point with many fewer word for word Skype conversations but overall it is an enjoyable, enlightening read.
buchowl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Yoshi Kojima is a butterfly smuggler. So what, you might say, it's only butterflies after all. Ed Newcomer would disagree with you. As an agent of the US Fish and Wildlife Agency he is on the front lines of the battle against this crime. The amount of money involved in this trade is staggering; the amount used to fight against it is laughable. You will never look at a butterfly the same way again. Jessica Speart uncovers the high stakes involved by following in the footsteps of Kojima and Newcomer and writing about the cat and mouse games they play with each other. At times heartwrenchingly sad, at others eerily perverted, the story is interesting and informative. Reading more like a crime novel than the non-fiction work that it is, this book highlights the heroic efforts of Fish and Wildlife agents against impossible odds. I found this book to be a worthwhile read although it did drag in spots from a bit too much dialogue. Especially interesting to me was the "roller" pigeon/raptor side plot. This book is recommende for anyone interested in animal issues and/or environmental policy. Readers who enjoy true crime/spy type books would also find much of interest with this book.
lyncos on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It was fascinating to read of the value some people have put on fragile, beautiful butterflies. Based on true events, this book was an eye opener for me as I did not realize the existence or extent of the underground market and the lengths to which collectors will go for the gorgeous butterfly. The story of the butterflies impressed me; less so the interactions between Ted Newcomer and Yoshi Kojima - the portrayal of lengthy conversations. The book was generally well written and suspenseful.
KarenElissa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For the most part this book was an interesting quick read. I'm not sure I would describe it as a book about butterfly smuggling, but more about fish and wildlife agents in general, especially with the side story about the hawk killing. It also dragged a bit toward the end. But overall, it was a good read.
cemming on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Completely absorbing story about the world's best butterfly smuggler, Yoshi Kojima, and how Agent Newcomer from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally brought him down.Speart's writing is straightforward and easy to understand. She shares information about the world of smuggling, plus specific butterfly trends and secrets, without overcomplicating the rhetoric. Her insider's perspective of the operations of Fish and Wildlife, along with the background in butterflies in particular, flesh out the story and add authority to the narrative.I don't usually enjoy nonfiction, but I got this book because I do enjoy reading about animals. I learned so much about butterflies, not to mention beetles and other bugs, that I'm now quite appreciative of them. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about endangered animals and the U.S. laws that leave us exposed to their continued smuggling.
BookWallah on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Coming from a family of do-it-yourself insect collecting I was appalled to learn of the booming black market for butterflies. This is a grim nonfiction heartbreak recast as a Hollywood thriller. If you can wade through the stilted dialog it is an entertaining read. Not recommended for for serious consumers of science writing, others may enjoy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
sharonCO More than 1 year ago
Read this book as a book club selection. Interesting. It showed me a whole sub culture I never knew existed. Howeve, it was hard to get too excited about beetles and butterflies. Author could have fleshed out the story a bit with more characted information (i.e, wife). Worth reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
AuthorPamelaBeason More than 1 year ago
When it comes to thinking about dangerous criminals, butterfly smugglers do not leap first to mind. But, as I learned in this book, insect smuggling is a very lucrative illegal business that threatens to render many butterflies extinct around the world as they are treated like trophies rather than living creatures. The author did a great job keeping my interest up while describing an undercover cat-and-mouse game that went on for years. I'll never look at butterflies--or especially, butterfly collectors--the same way again.