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SCOTT SHALAWAY Some summer reading can be a real mystery



Published: Sun, June 17, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Rachel Porter, an agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, first caught my attention in 1997 when she investigated alligator poaching in Louisiana. The following year her big case involved endangered tortoises and shady Nevada land deals. In 1999 Florida's illegal parrot trade caught Porter's attention, and last year she added illegal monkey business to her resume. Her latest adventure drags her into the unsavory world of caviar smuggling and white slavery.

Black Delta Night is Jessica Speart's fifth Rachel Porter Mystery ($5.99; Avon Books), and, like each of Speart's first four books, it's a great read and a lesson in endangered species conservation and wildlife law enforcement. Speart has created a new genre -- the wildlife mystery/thriller -- and I love em. .

Years ago I read and enjoyed every Ellery Queen and Nero Wolf mystery. But I never learned anything. Speart not only tells an great story, she teaches me about the seldom seen world of federal wildlife law enforcement. Because she interviews working federal agents and spends time with them in the field, Speart's stories ring true. And as a bonus, each story delivers a powerful conservation message. If you're looking for a great summer read., try Black Delta Night. And if Jessica Speart and Rachel Porter are new to you, you might want to pick up copies of Gator Aide (1997), Tortoise Soup (1998), Bird Brained (1999), and Border Prey (2000). .

Recommending fiction is a welcome change of pace for me, but I've also got some nonfiction titles to suggest.

Last year's What Einstein Told His Barber: More Scientific Answers to Everyday Questions by Robert Wolke ($12.95; Dell) is one of those books you can read in bits and pieces just before bed or while waiting for an appointment. Wolke is professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh, and he is one of those rare academicians who can explain difficult and complicated matters simply and clearly. And he doesn't take himself too seriously. He explains why the ocean's are salty and freshwater is not, how giant airplanes stay aloft, and why a rising full moon looks bigger than when it's high in the sky. And scattered throughout the book are & quot;bar bets & quot; you can use to recoup the cost of the book. And by the way, as the title implies, this book is a follow-up to Wolke's What Einstein Didn't Know: Scientific Answers to Everyday Questions (1999).

Kodiak Bears & amp; the Exxon Valdez (2000, $17.95; Kodiak Brown Bear Trust; www.kbbt.org) recounts the 1989 oil spill and its aftermath, including the good that has come from the unprecedented $1 billion in civil and criminal penalties. The book is written by seven different writers familiar with the incident including former Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Manager Jay Bellinger. This is must reading for conservationists everywhere.

If you've ever considered exploring Lake Erie by driving around it, you're in luck. Lake Erie Journal: Guide to the Official Lake Erie Circle Tour by Scott Carpenter (2001, $14.95; Big River Press) lays out the entire trip, complete with maps, directions, and descriptions of every conceivable tourist destination along the way. .

Blue Frontier: Saving America's Living Seas by David Helvarg (2001, $24.95; W.H Freeman) is a plea for reason. Oceans cover more than 71 percent of the earth's surface, absorb more carbon dioxide than rain forests, and control the planet's weather. Yet we abuse them, overfish them, and pollute them as if they will last forever. Helvarg argues that we can still salvage the & quot;blue frontier & quot; and he explains how an informed citizenry can make a difference. .

Finally, Extinct Birds by Errol Fuller (2001, revised edition; $45; Cornell University Press) is a large, beautifully illustrated natural history of more than 80 species of birds that are gone forever. From great auks and dodos to ivory-billed woodpeckers, Bachman's warblers and passenger pigeons, Fuller has compiled in one source what little is known about so many vanished species. I felt a sense of sadness for what once was as I thumbed through the pages, but also a sense of hope that by acknowledging and understanding extinction perhaps a third edition may never be required.

sshalaway @aol.com




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