A contributor to National Geographic and The New Yorker follows the parallel lives of Jeffrey Lendrum, a globe-trotting smuggler who spent two decades capturing endangered raptors worth millions of dollars as race champions, and Detective Andy McWilliam of the United Kingdom's National Wildlife Crime Unit, who's hell bent on protecting the world's birds of prey.
By sympathizing with the devil, Hammer is able to dig deeper into Lendrum’s psyche, proposing that the falcon thief’s motives may be more complex than mere cupidity. These arguments appear to have weight to them, but perhaps that’s merely wishful thinking on the part of the audience, wanting to believe that the antihero can turn hero ... Hammer covers all sides (or is it surfaces?) of this egg-shaped story, giving readers a full picture of the situation with judicious research and insider information gleaned from lengthy interviews, not only with individuals connected to the headline-making saga, but even with the falcon thief himself. The book is expertly organized and the writing is sharp; Lendrum’s risky adventures obtaining eggs, sometimes in the most inaccessible nooks and crannies of a cliff wall, come to life, and the balanced storytelling will give readers an aerial view of this story, a case study of the war between the thriving wildlife black market and crime fighters working, at times in vain, against it. Slipping as perfectly into the newly developing natural history-true crime subgenre as it does into a carry-on, The Falcon Thief both informs and thrills.
... gripping ... With the instinct of a hunter himself, Hammer tracks Lendrum’s nefarious career, structuring the story with elegant precision ... Hammer’s depiction of the father and son’s sabotage of the African black eagle conservation project is extremely moving ... The problem with a book that focuses on a man who uploads videos of himself to YouTube taunting an Egyptian cobra, or who is accused of turning up the heat on an incubator full of live eggs to destroy evidence, is that it is impossible to feel empathy for Lendrum. What emerges from a series of shady, fraudulent activities is the profile of a blackhearted con man, a Dirty John of the bird world ... Hammer acknowledges that Lendrum’s unappealing sense of entitlement likely derives from growing up white and privileged in colonial Rhodesia. He continually asserts that Lendrum is charming, 'personable and likable,' but he never comes across that way. Following the inventory of awful deeds, the reader is left appalled.
Mr. Hammer’s story is part true crime, part nature writing. The criminals are all the more intriguing for being nonviolent, the types motivated by obsession rather than greed ... As a work of natural history, The Falcon Thief is only slightly less satisfying ... Mr. Hammer fails in only one respect: He never penetrates the criminal side of Persian Gulf falconry ... After reading this book, one feels sympathy for both the falcon and bustard, and none at all for egg poachers...or the falconers who keep them in business.