The books is a tale of obsession, the desire to capture and “own” beautiful nature, and the frenzied lengths some people will go to in pursuit of acquiring something that no one else has.
In 2009, a young American musician named Edwin Rist played a concert in London, put his flute in his locker, and retrieved an empty suitcase. He rode the train to a branch of the British Natural History Museum in Tring, broke in, and stole 299 priceless bird specimens (skins). A lot of people think he got away with it.
In 2011, author Kirk Wallace Johnson was fly-fishing in New Mexico when his guide told him the story of the heist. Johnson was “hooked” and this book is the tale of his investigation into the story of the thief Edwin Rist, the history of fly-tying that prompted Rist to commit this crime, and the obsessed community of fly-tying fanatics still driving an illicit market in protected species.
This book just served to renew my love of nonfiction and makes me wonder why I read so much fiction when these types of books are out there. It’s wonderfully written, suspenseful at times, contemplative at others. But even for a reader like me, who cares not one bit about fishing or salmon fly-tying, it was nevertheless a wonderfully compelling read.
I paired the print book with the audiobook and it only enhanced the experience for me. MacLeod Andrews does a masterful job as the reader. If you like nonfiction accounts of bizarre crimes (with minimal carnage except to a ton of birds in the Victorian era), this could be the right read for you. I thought it was wonderfully done.