Squeeze Me by Carl Hiaasen: A review
In need of a distraction from the sorrows of the world last week, I turned to Carl Hiaasen. His books are usually guaranteed to amuse. And I can't say that this one wasn't amusing on some level, but even in the pages of his book, I wasn't able to escape the sordidness that characterizes our current government.
The "Florida Man" of Hiaasen's novels might now be identified as Trumpian. Indeed, the president and first lady and assorted Secret Service agents play central roles in Squeeze Me. So do those other unpleasant denizens of the Sunshine State who are there through no fault or impetus of their own, the pythons.
Invasive Burmese pythons have become a plague upon the state, their population exploding after being released either accidentally or on purpose into the wild. They have devastated native wildlife and capturing and destroying them has become a growth industry in the state. And thereby hangs Hiaasen's tale.
Angie Armstrong is a wildlife wrangler extraordinaire. After training as a veterinarian and then walking away from her father's practice, she had worked briefly for the state in their wildlife service. But then she encountered a poacher who had killed a small fawn and in a fit of anger, she fed one of the poacher's hands to an alligator. Although the state frowned on poachers, it frowned even more severely on wildlife officers who assaulted poachers. Angie was prosecuted for assault and spent some time in prison. When she got out, she decided to start her own wildlife service, Discreet Removals. She specialized in removing everything from mice to 20 foot long pythons. She did it discreetly and humanely and released her captives into the wild - except for the pythons. Those she delivered, alive or dead, to the state lab.
One night Angie is called to a posh golf club resort in Palm Beach to remove a python. She finds the beast in a tree near a lake. The snake is quite placid and a large bump in its middle reveals why. The animal has just fed and is digesting its meal. Angie dispatches the snake with a machete and removes it from the resort to take it to the lab. But things go awry. Before she can complete her delivery, the snake is stolen from her storage, the bulge in its stomach removed, and it ends up accidentally lost from its transport in the middle of a road crossing railroad tracks where it causes the first lady's motorcade to come to a screeching halt until the carcass can be removed.
Meanwhile, we learn that Kiki Pew Fitzsimmons, a wealthy Palm Beach matron had drunk a lot at a swank gala at the same resort from which Angie removed the python. She had wandered outside and now she is missing. Kiki Pew was an unwavering supporter of the president and a founder of an organization of like-minded elderly Palm Beach matrons called the Potus Pussies, or Potussies for short. She has vanished without a trace, the only clue being one of her shoes found by the lake where the python was removed. She was a small woman, only weighing around a hundred pounds. Is it possible that the bulge in the python's stomach was Kiki?
When her body is found buried in concrete at a construction site and an undocumented immigrant is picked up nearby by the immigration service, the predictable happens. The president rages that Kiki has been brutally murdered by an "illegal alien" and he whips his followers into a frenzy of hate as they demand vengeance from the "justice" system. Of course, there is zero evidence to support his claim, but when did a lack of evidence ever stop him?
Hiaasen takes all of these elements and stirs them into a social and political satire that, frankly, was just too close to reality to give me much of a laugh. He also manages to work in his character from previous books, the former governor who walked away from it all to become a warrior for the environment. We know him now as Skink and Angie manages to meet him in his hideaway in the swamp. They should be natural allies and they are.
Hiaasen treats us to a view of the president's and first lady's private lives that includes the people they are having sex with. (Hint: It's not each other.) We learn that, at least in Hiaasen World, the Florida White House is called Casa Bellicosa which seems entirely appropriate, and also that the Secret Service name for the president is Mastodon and for the first lady is Mockingbird - names which also seem utterly appropriate.
I liked the character, Angie Armstrong. She is the righteous center of this story. It's an absurd tale but well-plotted and with the usual helping of black humor and downright silliness that we expect from Hiaasen. Sadly, I'm sorely afraid that some of the more bizarre elements are very close to the truth.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars