The Falcon Thief: A True Tale of Adventure, Treachery and the Hunt for the Perfect Bird (Simon & Schuster) begins with this audacious scenario and dives deep into the world of rare-bird smuggling, with a focus on the history of Lendrum’s falcon thievery and the investigation tactics of UK National Wildlife Crime Unit investigator Andy McWilliam. Beautiful birds and calculated deception combine in this true-crime tale.The author: Joshua Hammer ’79 is the New York Times bestselling author of The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. He has written for the New York Times Magazine, GQ, The New Yorker, National Geographic, The Atlantic, Smithsonian, and Outside.
Opening lines: The man had been in there far too long, John Struczynski thought. Twenty minutes had elapsed since he had entered the shower facility in the Emirates Lounge for business and first-class passengers at Birmingham International Airport, in the West Midlands region of England, 113 miles north of London. Now Struczynski stood in the corridor outside the shower room, a stack of fresh towels in the cart beside him, a map, a pail, and a pair of CAUTION WET FLOOR signs at his feet. The janitor was impatient to clean the place.
The man and a female companion had been the first ones that day to enter the lounge, a warmly decorated room with butterscotch armchairs, a powder-blue carpet, dark wood columns, glass coffee tables, and black-shaded Chinese porcelain lamps. It was Monday, May 3, 2010 — a bank holiday in the United Kingdom — and the lounge had opened at noon to accommodate passengers booked on the 2:40 p.m. Emirates direct flight to Dubai. The couple had settled into an alcove with a television near the reception desk. Minutes later the man had stood up and headed for the shower, carrying a shoulder bag and two small suitcases. That had struck Struczynski as strange. Who brings all of his luggage into the business-and-first-class shower room? And now he had been in there two or three times longer than any normal passenger.
A tall, lean man in his forties with short-cropped graying hair and a brush mustache, Struczynski had spent a decade monitoring 130 closed-circuit television cameras on the night shift at a Birmingham shopping mall, a job that “gave me a background in watching people,” he would later say. That February, after the security firm laid him off, a management company had hired him to clean the Emirates Lounge. The first week he was there, the contractor enrolled him an on-site training course to identify potential terrorist threats. The course, he would later say, heightened his normal state of suspicion.
As Struczynski puttered around the hallway, the shower room door opened and the passenger—a balding, slender, middle-aged white man of average height—stepped out. He slipped past Struczynski without looking at him.
The cleaner opened the shower facility door and looked around the room.
My goodness, he thought. What do we have here?
The shower floor and the glass partition surrounding it were both bone-dry. All the towels remained stacked and neatly folded. The toilet for the disabled hadn’t been used. The washbasin didn’t have a single drop of water in it. Though the man had been inside the room for twenty minutes, he didn’t appear to have touched anything.
Struczynski recalled the terrorism workshop that he had taken three months earlier, the exhortations from the instructor to watch out for odd looks and unusual behavior. This passenger was up to something. He knew it. Not sure what he was looking for, he rifled through the towels and facecloths, rummaged beneath the complimentary toothpaste tubes and other toiletries, checked the rubbish bin. He mounted a footstool and dislodged two ceiling tiles, wedging his hand into the hollow space just above them. Nothing.
He shifted his attention to the baby-changing area. In the corner of the alcove stood a plastic waist-high diaper bin with a round flap lid. Struczynski removed the top and looked inside. He noticed something sitting on the bottom: a green cardboard egg carton.
In one of the middle slots sat a single egg, dyed blood-red.
Reviews: “Joshua Hammer has that rare eye for a thrilling story, and with The Falcon Thief he had found the perfect one—a tale brimming with eccentric characters, obsession, deception, and beauty. It had the grip of a novel, with the benefit of being all true.” –David Grann, New York Times bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon and The Lost City of Z.