The Scent of Scandal: Greed, Betrayal, and the World's Most Beautiful Orchid

The Scent of Scandal: Greed, Betrayal, and the World's Most Beautiful Orchid

3.5 2
by Craig Pittman
     
 

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Some people will do anything for beauty or fame

“FANTASTIC. If I did not know most of the main players I would have thought the author had a vivid and twisted imagination..”—Paul Martin Brown, author of Wild Orchids of Florida

“A fascinating true story of obsession, greed, and lust for the unobtainable. Reminds me a great

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Overview

Some people will do anything for beauty or fame

“FANTASTIC. If I did not know most of the main players I would have thought the author had a vivid and twisted imagination..”—Paul Martin Brown, author of Wild Orchids of Florida

“A fascinating true story of obsession, greed, and lust for the unobtainable. Reminds me a great deal of The Maltese Falcon. This rare flower is definitely the stuff that dreams are made of.”—Ace Atkins, author of Devil's Garden and Infamous

“Pittman has captured the extreme competition, unique characters, and general insanity that often typify the orchid world. The Scent of Scandal exemplifies how passion and profit can overrule common sense and the law.”—Scott Steward, former associate editor, North American Native Orchid Journal

Every year more than 100,000 people visit Sarasota’s Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, in large part to see its vast orchid collection, one of the most magnificent in the world. But the most famous orchid in Selby’s history—the one hailed as the most significant find in a century—isn't on display. It's the one that led to search warrants, a grand jury investigation, and headlines around the country.
         
Discovered in Peru in 2002, the Phragmipedium kovachii quickly became the most sought-after orchid in the world. Prices soared to $10,000 on the black market and otherwise rational people bent rules and broke laws in their obsessive quest to possess it.
         
Award-winning journalist Craig Pittman covered this fascinating story, as it happened, for the St. Petersburg Times, Florida’s largest newspaper. In this enthralling account, he unravels the tangled web of smugglers, scientists, and federal investigators to reveal who the real criminals were in this sordid affair. He also shines a spotlight on flaws in the international treaties governing trade in endangered wildlife—treaties that often protect individual plants and animals in shipping but do little to halt the destruction of whole colonies in the wild.
         
With candid interviews from nearly everyone involved in the case, The Scent of Scandal unspools like a riveting mystery novel, stranger than anything in Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief or the film Adaptation. Pittman shows how some people can become so obsessed—with beauty, with profit, with fame, with the desire to own a rare flower—that even the possibility of going to prison will not deter their risking everything.

Craig Pittman writes about environmental issues for the St. Petersburg Times. He is the coauthor of Paving Paradise: Florida’s Vanishing Wetlands and the Failure of No Net Loss and author of Manatee Insanity: Inside the War over Florida’s Most Famous Endangered Species.

 

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Reading this book is like watching a car wreck in slow-motion: you know what’s going to happen but you can’t look away…the book focuses on what happens when greed, betrayal and obsession collide with national and international laws designed to protect natural resources from over-exploitation.”—The Guardian (UK)

“A story with as many twists and turns as Hammett’s ‘Maltese Falcon,’ and just about the same amount of greed, jealousy, backstabbing and subterfuge.”—Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“[An] engaging saga of orchidophiles.”—Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Fascinating…one of the most entertaining orchid books to come along in years.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Takes readers on a wild globetrotting trek… Pittman introduces a large cast of eccentric, flower-crazed characters who have seemingly stepped out of an ‘Indiana Jones’ flick, hunting the Holy Grail of orchids.”—South Florida Sun-Sentinel

“Incredible reading…. Fuse[s] investigative reporting and true-crime writing to create the pace and tension of a great detective novel.”—Sarasota Herald-Tribune

“An in-depth portrait of a weird, sometimes dangerous mania.”—Tampa Bay Times

“A page turner—with real people, real emotions, good intentions, devious actions, careless decisions, and a very beautiful plant.”—Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas

Kirkus Reviews
An excruciatingly detailed account of the 2002 controversy that rocked Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Fla., when its scientists were asked to identify an orchid of dubious origin. St. Petersburg Times writer Pittman's (Manatee Insanity: Inside the War over Florida's Most Famous Endangered Species, 2010, etc.) zeal for his subject is admirable, but his enthusiasm is unlikely to be shared by many of his readers. Was Michael Kovach a simple orchid collector who, by removing a rare new species of orchid from its native Peru and bringing it back to the United States, unwittingly violated the law? Or was he a greedy, scheming orchid smuggler, well aware of the illegality of his actions? Such questions are intriguing at first, but the book begins to drag as the reader discovers how little is actually at stake: Kovach will either be sentenced to jail but not serve any time, or he'll simply have to pay a small fine. The executive director of the Gardens will either keep her job or be fired. People's professional reputations will suffer, they'll lose money and they'll be otherwise inconvenienced. But after expectations of explosive, life-or-death drama, such mundane reversals feel anticlimactic. However, Pittman's background as a reporter mostly serves him well; he is adept at foregrounding the most pertinent details of a story that involves conflicting accounts and years of complex litigation, and the narrative moves along swiftly. In other ways, though, his journalistic instincts are a liability. The book often feels choppy and rushed, as if it were written on a tight deadline, and Pittman has a penchant for hackneyed phrases ("the big pay-off…that would put you on Easy Street") and heavy-handed foreshadowing ("She believed she had climbed to the pinnacle of success. Actually, she was standing on a precipice"). Though exhaustively researched, the book is not compelling enough to hold the interest of anyone who does not have a personal connection to the material. Read Eric Hansen's Orchid Fever (2000) instead.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780813060569
Publisher:
University Press of Florida
Publication date:
09/30/2014
Series:
Florida History and Culture Series
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
737,113
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Craig Pittman is an award-winning journalist who writes about environmental issues for Florida’s largest newspaper, the St. Petersburg Times. He is the coauthor of Paving Paradise and author of Manatee Insanity.

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