Trade in exotic and endangered species is a multi-billion dollar industry. It stands as the world’s third largest organized crime—after narcotics, and arms running. In the state of Florida, it is second only to the illicit trade in narcotics. DARK ROAD, DEAD END: A Novel by Philip Cioffari (November 1, 2014; University of Alabama/Livingston Press simultaneous hardcover/paperback; 272 pages) takes the reader into this nefarious underworld where one man tries to bring the trade to a halt.

Walter Morrison, working undercover for the U.S. Customs Service, has been in town less than three weeks but already he’s seen evidence of wildlife smuggling: boatloads of exotic species of birds and mammals being ferried in the dead of night through the fast-running streams of the Everglades. And what he’s witnessed is only a small part of a vast criminal enterprise that supplies these rare and endangered species nationwide to pet stores, private hunt clubs, wildlife safari parks and even to highly “reputable” municipal zoos. His chance to expose the operation is growing slimmer because time is running out. Someone in his own agency is out to kill him.

To complicate matters, Morrison’s a loner. Until now this has been an asset in his line of work, but this job is too big, too perilous to work alone. So he’s forced to depend on an unlikely array of people:  a Guatemalan migrant worker here to avenge the death of his sister; a retired Coast Guard Admiral who misses the thrills of his former life; a small-time New York hood on the lam from the mob; and the beautiful and seductive girlfriend of a sleazy hustler.

It all plays out in Mangrove Bay. The end of the road. An outpost on the southern tip of Florida, beyond which lies nothing but endless swamp and danger.

Philip Cioffarisprevious  three books of fiction are: the novel, Jesusville: the novel, Catholic Boys; and the short story collection, A History of Things Lost or Broken, which won the Tartt Fiction Prize, and the D. H. Lawrence award for fiction. His short stories have been published widely in commercial and literary magazines and anthologies, including North American Review, Playboy, Michigan Quarterly Review, Northwest Review, Florida Fiction, and Southern Humanities Review. He has also written and directed for Off and Off-Off Broadway. His Indie feature film, which he wrote and directed, “Love In The Age Of Dion,” has won numerous awards, including Best Feature Film at the Long Island International Film Expo, and Best Director at the NY Independent Film & Video Festival. A native of the Bronx, he is a Professor of English, and director of the Performing and Literary Arts Honors Program, at William Paterson University in New Jersey. For more information, please visit

A Conversation with Philip Cioffari,


 Q: Why did you decide to use the illegal trade of exotic animals as the premise of your latest book?

A: I was appalled to learn that the trade in exotic and endangered species is a multi-billion dollar industry. It stands as the world’s third largest organized crime—after narcotics, and arms running. In the state of Florida, it is second only to the illicit trade in narcotics. Despite an international ban on such trafficking, there are many “rogue” nations that do not enforce the ban and that turn a blind eye towards those who violate it. And to be sure, world-wide, there is no shortage of those willing to engage in wildlife poaching and smuggling. One reason for this is the lucrative rewards of such activity—as one U.S. Customs agent put it, “Pound for pound, there is more profit for smugglers in exotic birds [and other wildlife] than there is in cocaine.”

Q: Is it really that hard to police this kind of criminal activity?

Another appeal to the criminal mind is the low risk of being apprehended, this a consequence of the fact that most customs agencies are understaffed and over-worked and must, of necessity, turn their attention to higher-profile crimes, like the trade in narcotics and guns.

Q: How does this happen?

The way it works is this: animals are poached from all over the world, smuggled illegally out of their respective countries, then shipped thousands of miles via land and sea, and ultimately smuggled into the country of destination.

Q: Who is buying these animals?

A: The U.S. and China are the two largest consumers of such contraband.

Q: You are better known for your literary works, what inspired you to go the noir route this time?

A: I wanted to shed some light on this situation, to call attention to it and—because I’m a writer of fiction—do so in as entertaining a way as possible, hence the noir suspense/thriller format of this novel.


4 Responses to DARK ROAD, DEAD END A Novel by Philip Cioffari

  1. Rick says:

    Philip – Your new book sounds like a fascinating read. I’ll have to somehow free up some time to read it.

  2. Darcia Helle says:

    I’ve long been appalled by the exotic animals trade. Very cool to see a novel take on this topic. I think sometimes realistic fiction has more impact on people than nonfiction books or the 30-second TV news bites.

    This one is going on my wishlist!

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