Title: Winged Obsession: The Pursuit of the World’s Most Notorious Butterfly Smuggler
Author: Jessica Speart
Release Date: April 5, 2011
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: True Crime, Non-Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
Ed Newcomer is a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agent who has been assigned an investigation on butterfly smuggling. While at first, he is disappointed with what he sees as a lackluster assignment, Newcomer quickly becomes obsessed with the idea of catching Yoshi Kojima, a ruthless butterfly smuggler. As he tries to forge a relationship with Yoshi undercover, Newcomer is simultaneously amazed at Yoshi’s cleverness and frustrated at how the smuggler keeps slipping through his fingers.
Winged Obsession: The Pursuit of the World’s Most Notorious Butterfly Smuggler is a suspenseful work of narrative non-fiction. Jessica Speart is most widely known as a mystery author, not an investigative author, so this book reads like a mystery novel. Speart sets a quick pace and does a wonderful job ratcheting up the suspense as Newcomer closes in on Yoshi. As a result, this book is an incredibly easy and engaging read, especially considering it’s non-fiction.
Speart also includes a vast amount of information about butterflies in this book. It’s not always ideally placed – for example, at one point, Speart veers off the narrative path in order to inject some more butterfly facts, rather than including the section in a non-jarring chapter introduction – but it’s incredibly interesting. Before reading this book, I had no idea people collected dead butterflies. I also was not aware that butterfly smugglers such as Yoshi Kojima were hunting certain species into extinction, just to make a quick buck. I appreciated that I was able to learn a lot while simultaneously being very entertained.
Yoshi is an interesting character, to say the least. Though he is clearly a real person, I call him a character because he almost comes across as a caricature. That’s not to knock Speart’s writing ability; I’m convinced she wrote him true-to-life because you just can’t make up some of this stuff. To start with, he was absolutely disgusting, living in filth and surrounded by insects, both dead and alive. He raised his level of grossness to an entirely new level when he started sexually harassing Ed at every possible turn. At the same time, though, Yoshi was incredibly smart and savvy. It’s honestly difficult to reconcile these different parts of Yoshi, especially considering he hid as much of himself as possible. How much was an act and how much was the real Yoshi? It’s a puzzle that readers will enjoy trying to solve.
Newcomer is a sometimes naïve agent, and he’s definitely not perfect. At the same time, though, it’s clear that he’s good at his job and dedicated. As the book progresses, the reader feels sorry for him. On one hand, he’s trying to have a life and keep his marriage from falling apart, but on the other, there’s Yoshi. Newcomer wants so badly to capture him, but at what cost? Yoshi’s demands on his time are unbelievable, and if Newcomer doesn’t respond, he knows he risks losing Yoshi.
Speart takes all these different narrative threads and ties them together very well into one cohesive and engaging whole. The hunt to bring Yoshi down will have readers cheering for every one of Newcomer’s victories. This is a wonderful work of narrative non-fiction, one mystery lovers and fans of investigative non-fiction should definitely pick up.