Saturday, May 05, 2012

Orchids and 'true crime' come together at Books and Books

Craig Pittman has written what may be the only book to
combine gardening with the True Crime genre.

You know how when you read a good book, the characters really seem to come to life?

Tampa Bay Times environmental writer Craig Pittman pulled off something like that this week when he showed up at Books & Books in Coral Gables to sign his latest book, "The Scent of Scandal."

Mitchell Kaplan and Craig Pittman.

(Over the years I've worked with Craig on several newspaper stories. For just one story in 2003 we visited an abandoned Cold War missile base in the Florida Keys, tromped through a mosquito-infested swamp and hung out with a colony of stray cats at the exclusive Ocean Reef Club...all in one day.)

Craig invited some of the characters in the book to show up too.

His non-fiction book, subtitled "Greed, Betrayal, and the World's Most Beautiful Orchid," recounts the discovery of what's been billed as the most astounding orchid to be found in a century. The guy who found it thought he'd be hailed as a hero, but instead he wound up facing criminal charges, and armed federal officers showed up to raid his greenhouse looking for contraband plants. Turns out he smuggled it into the country via the Miami airport.

One of the main characters in the book is a guy from Miami-Dade County named Lee Moore. His nickname is "The Adventurer," because he's been traipsing around South American jungles for a couple of decades and has cheated death and discovered a number of plants named for him.

Pittman invited Moore to the signing, and recounted how he once made the mistake of calling Moore an orchid smuggler.

"I never smuggled orchids," Moore said. "I used the orchids to hide what I was REALLY smuggling."

From left to right, Lee Moore, Michael Grunwald, Pittman
and Georgia Tasker.

Craig also invited Georgia Tasker, who was the Miami Herald's gardening columnist. She broke the story about the discovery and the investigation, and according to Pittman became the first gardening columnist to ever get a front-page scoop on a criminal case.

Also attending: Martin and Nancy Motes, founders of the Redland International Orchid Festival down in Homestead, where people were selling the newly found orchid under the table for $10,000 a plant.

The event also attracted documentary filmmaker Alfred Spellman, who is more familiar with other kinds of smuggling ("Cocaine Cowboys" and "Square Grouper" are two of his films) and Time magazine senior correspondent Michael Grunwald, who wrote THE book on the Everglades, "The Swamp," and now has a new book coming out on the stimulus called "The New New Deal."

Craig's reading didn't draw quite as many fans as E.L. James, the author of "Fifty Shades of Grey," did last week (500 people for mommy porn? What's the world coming to? Wait, don't answer that.) Still, store owner Mitchell Kaplan was pleased and even invited Pittman to return for the Miami International Book Festival in November.

All in all it was a memorable night. Made me want to actually read the book, now that I've met some of the characters...

If you weren't able to make Craig's signing, you can still hear him talk about the book on Eliott Rodriguez's News & Views, Sunday at 11:30 a.m. on CBS4, or watch on

I tried to pay close attention to
most of Craig's talk.

1 comment:

  1. Great write-up and pix, Bill! Thanks! And this time we didn't wind up with bug spray stinging our eyes as we stumbled around blindly bumping into trees as our park ranger tour guide admitted she was lost...


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