by Robert Lopresti
You could say this column is a sequel to a piece I wrote called "The Ranger And The Sheriff's Wife." That was a report on two non-fiction books that seemed to be chock full of ideas for crime stories. So is this.
Thieves of Baghdad, by Matthew Bogdanos, Bloomsbury Books, 2005.
Matthew Bogdanos planned to go into his family's restaurant business
but one day, on a whim, he decided to enlist in the Marines. The
recruiter took one look at his test scores and said he was doing no
such thing. He was going to enlist in college and then the
Marines would accept him for officer's school.
Bogdanos became the first person in his family to attend college, and on
9/11 he was a federal prosecutor in New York City, and a member of the
After the famous looting of the Iraqi Museum in
Baghdad, Bogdanos was able to convince his superiors that he was the
perfect person to head the squad assigned to search for the missing
antiquities. After all, how many Marine officers could there be with
law degrees and knowledge of classical art and literature?
you can imagine, the job was extremely complicated. For example,
consider the difficulty of simply reporting accurately how much was
stolen. If thieves took five pieces of an old jar, did they
take one item or five?
More importantly he discovered that a lot
of the material hadn't been stolen at all; but was placed in
protect it from the U.S. troops who were no doubt planning to
confiscate the art and take it back home. So Bogdanos and his men
had a diplomatic task to do, convincing people that all they wanted was
to get the art safely back into the museum. Inevitably this
involved drinking many cups of tea with interested parties.
is not to say the marines didn't deal with actual thieves or
terrorists. Both were encountered in big numbers. I highly
recommend this book.
Shell Games, by Craig Welch, William Morrow Books, 2010.
It was like a Walt Disney movie that turned into Stephen King.
says one of the main characters in this book, summarizing his
career. But the protagonist is Ed Volz, a cop with the Washington
State Department of Fish and Wildlife. HIs job was to catch
people like the Disney-to-King gentleman above.
You see, Puget Sound has a poaching problem. The main target of these "clam rustlers" is the geoduck (gooeyduck),
a bizarre-looking bivalve that can live well over one hundred
Because they take so long to develop they are considered
the "old growth forest" of the sea and no one knows for sure how long
it takes to replenish a field that has been harvested. One of the
nasty parts of the trade is that until you dig the clam out of the sand
(sometimes two feet down) you can't tell if it is valuable or
relatively worthless.. Since pulling it out of the sand kills it,
that counts as part of your fishing quota, whatever quality it turns out to
As you can guess, nasty poachers find all kinds of ways
around the quotas, so both state and federal agents keep busy trying to
keep people from stealing the things to sell, mostly to Asia. One
problem for the good guys is getting the legal system to take the crime
seriously (clam rustling!), although the occasional arson or attempted
murder helps with that.
This non-fiction book is full of remarkable, larger-than-life
characters, like the Native American sculptor/fisher, a twice-convicted
felon, who volunteered to go undercover to catch the poachers. Or
the alleged hit man who travelled with a teddy bear. Or Seattle's
legendary Ivar Haglund, "P.T. Barnum of the Sea," who, when a truck
full of syrup spilled on the highway, showed up with a plate of
pancakes and a fork. Or, well, take this fellow, a real lateral thinker:
He'd been experimenting with planting
geoducks much like shellfish companies farmed oysters and had leased
forty-seven acres of public tidelands just off a county park near Purdy
Spit. Since the land was underwater and not suited for building,
the county charged just twenty-five hundred dollars. But in
readying his farm for planting baby clams... [he] set about removing
obstacles -- namely an entire colony of wild geoducks. [He} dug
up and sold $2 million worth of clams.
A wild story.