Saturday, August 23, 2008

Pg. 99: Bryan Christy's "The Lizard King"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Bryan Christy's The Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passions of the World's Greatest Reptile Smugglers.

About the book, from the publisher:
Imagine The Sopranos—with snakes!

When Bryan Christy began investigating the world of reptile smuggling, he had no idea what he would be in for. In the course of his research, he was bitten between the eyes by a blood python, chased by an alligator, sprayed by a bird-eating tarantula, and ejaculated on by a Bengal tiger. But perhaps most challenging was coming face to face with Michael J. Van Nostrand, owner of Strictly Reptiles, a thriving family business in Hollywood, Florida. To some, Michael is a dutiful son of Ray Van Nostrand, Sr., founder of the family business and a living legend among the snake-hunting set. But to Special Agent Chip Bepler of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Michael and his father are suspected smugglers and targets of a five-year investigation that has become his personal mission.

Strictly Reptiles imports as many as half of the green iguanas brought into the United States (America’s most popular imported reptile), and hundreds of thousands of snakes, frogs, turtles, spiders, and scorpions. The Lizard King is Christy’s evocative tour through the wild subculture of hunters, enthusiasts, and collectors willing to pay $175,000 for a rare African snake. It is the story of virtually every reptile for sale in America, and it is Christy’s personal story of his attraction to life’s underbelly, borne from his experiences in his family of morticians. Best of all, it is a tale of reptile smugglers, a family business, and a cat-and-mouse game with a federal agent determined to expose their cold-blooded crime.
Among the praise for The Lizard King:
"The Lizard King is a wild, woolly, finny, feathery and scaly account of animal smuggling on a grand scale, in a weird world so expansive that a few hundred stray snakes and turtles amount to peanuts. Mr. Christy is after much bigger game … Mr. Christy’s entertaining book is about the crooks, swashbucklers and drug kingpins who constitute the underbelly of the reptile-dealing world … To capture this kind of stunt as effervescently as he does, Mr. Christy must share some of his subjects’ fetishism. (He himself was a snake-fancying kid. He also worked for Ray Van Nostrand cleaning snake cages while doing research for the The Lizard King) So he understands the basic principle that governs reptile trafficking: collectors’ tastes evolve on a ‘bigger, meaner, rarer, hot’ trajectory … The chase eventually becomes international. So Mr. Christy has the makings of cat-and-mouse suspense. He also has a tangle of smugglers, agents, breeders and highly colorful minor players (like the tiger-purchasing Miami gangster who sounds like the prototype for “Scarface”) with stories to tell …"
--Janet Maslin, New York Times

"Bryan Christy has entered the belly of the beasts and come out with a perfectly paced page turner. His complete infiltration into the reptile-smuggling worlds of Mike Van Nostrand and Henry Molt (lovely name for a snake man), among others, could have yielded a book overburdened with whos, hows, and whys. Instead, having mastered all the complexities by dint of exhaustive, gutsy (or crazy) reporting, he succeeds in building, in suitably plain prose, an unfolding narrative whose characters and events-evil and good-leave you marveling at the sheer unholy weirdness of people. The Lizard King is a phenomenally good read!"
--Oliver Payne, National Geographic

"In South Florida, we love our crime stories. And we love our weird animal stories. And we're happiest of all when the two categories intersect. [S]ome guy's getting busted at the airport with birds in his underwear or snakes in his socks… [Those stories] are the rarely visible evidence of a vast, illegal, lucrative trade, exotic animal smuggling, which Bryan Christy recounts and reveals to great effect in his new book… [A] fascinating story."
--Nancy Klingener, Miami Herald

"Lively … skillful … [I]t hit me like a body blow … Christy does a service by lifting up the rock so we can take a peek at these unsavory human specimens."
--Terri Jentz, New York Times Book Review
Read an excerpt from The Lizard King, and learn more about the book and author at Bryan Christy's website and his blog.

The Page 99 Test: The Lizard King.

--Marshal Zeringue