Carl Hiaasen’s Squeeze Me

I have long delighted in Carl Hiaasen’s wild and wacky tales of life and death in Florida , particularly since I lived there for a good many years. I put off reading (or even buying) Squeeze Me until after the election as part of my general avoidance of all things Trump. (As I write this, 48 hours remain until Biden’s inauguration.) Warning: browsing reviews on GoodReads, and probably anywhere else, shows a sharp divide on appreciation of the book clearly based on political opinion.

I loved Squeeze Me.

The title, while reminiscent of an erotic romance novel, actually refers to the Burmese python whose presence on the grounds of a ritzy Palm Beach estate during the Irritable Bowel Syndrome fund raising gala causes chaos. Enter Angie Armstrong, a new inhabitant in Hiaasen’s universe (and I hope we see more of her in future books), proprietor (and sole employee) of Discreet Captures, prepared to remove any pest from mice in the kitchen to—you guessed it—stray pythons. Angie is suspicious of the very large bulge in the belly of the very large python, especially after hearing of the disappearance of the very small socialite during the gala, but somehow the body of the snake is stolen from Angie’s storage unit before she can deliver it to the state wildlife folks.

And from there Hiaasen introduces us to as wide and weird a cast as he ever imagined (or pulled from the headlines of Florida newspapers). There are burglars, cops, secret service agents, a group of elderly, wealthy, and frequently tipsy socialites who call themselves the Potussies, a poacher who has been stalking Angie for years, and even Skink, the one-time Florida governor who has hidden in the swamps, living off road kill and booze, for decades (and eight Hiaasen novels).

At the center of it all sits the POTUS, at his winter White House, Casa Bellicosa. Known as Mastodon to the Secret Service (he likes the name so much he wants to see a real one; the agents tell him it’s on loan to a zoo in Christchurch, New Zealand), he manages to turn the disappearance of the socialite into yet another attack on immigrants. Meanwhile, the FLOTUS rather likes her code name, Mockingbird, almost as much as she likes her lead Secret Service agent. And there’s a tanning machine lurking in the background, surely a disaster in the making.

Through it all we see Hiaasen’s love of Florida, his distress at the ecological damage piling up, and his amazement at the antics of all too many real life “Florida Men.”

Three Funny Books

The only thing these three recent reads have in common is that they made me laugh. Since that’s my favorite kind of book, it’s what you’re likely to find here more often than not.

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Razor Girl: I love Carl Hiaasen’s books. I lived in Florida way back when, but that’s not a prerequisite for appreciating Hiaasen’s hysterical recombining of things that actually happen there. As usual, this novel has a razor-girlmyriad of characters whose lives become improbably tangled together, the main one being Andrew Yancy, former detective reduced to health inspector, determined to get his badge back by involving himself in matters he really should avoid.

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As for the Razor Girl of the title, she certainly has carved out a unique occupational niche for herself, and brings an unexpected helping of madcap adventure into Andrew’s life.

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Featuring bearded reality(?) stars, Gambian pouched rats, bizarre pharmaceuticals, Hollywood talent agents, fake service dogs, and a mongoose, Razor Girl is a fine example of Hiaasen’s frenetic storytelling.

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From This Fae Forward is the second installment in AE Jones’ Paranormal Wedding Planner series. This time out, Bennett Bridal’s exercise instructor, Sheila Hampton, finds herself having to pretend that ex-SEAL andfrom-this-fae-forward security expert Charlie Tucker is her fiance for thirty days. The operative word here is pretend, because Sheila is a woodland nymph and Charlie is a sea nymph, and never the twain shall meet. Or marry.

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That’s not so much of a problem for Sheila, who has been banished from her clan, or Charlie, who has cut ties with his, but it sure upsets Sheila’s father and the rest of the woodland faction, who have been holding a grudge against the sea folk for generations (to the point that no one really remembers why). No, Sheila and Charlie’s problem is that they don’t like each other. Well, that’s what they try to believe, but it isn’t really working out that way.

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All the characters from In Sickness and in Elf are back, planning a fabulous nymph wedding for Sheila and Charlie (who are about the only people who don’t expect the wedding to happen) and From This Fae Forward is just as much fun as the first story.

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Diane Kelly’s Above the Paw continues the adventures of Forth Worth Police Officer Megan Luz and her four-above-the-pawfooted partner Brigit. This time around we find Megan going undercover to search for the drug dealer selling Molly to university students. She hasn’t been out of school more than a few years herself, but going back is something of a culture shock. Brigit, posing as an epilepsy alert dog, enjoys all the attention. Megan’s investigation leads in unexpected directions, and puts her and Brigit in danger when they get too close to the truth.

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I never miss one of Kelly’s books, and this one does not disappoint. With mystery, humor, and Brigit, how could it miss?

Recent Reading

When I cut my work schedule back to three days a week, I hoped to have more time for reading, writing, and sleeping.  I’m doing fine on the sleeping (driving into Houston an hour later really helps), and not too badly on the writing (a couple of writing group challenges have been keeping me on track).

On the reading, not so much.  I’ve still been falling asleep with the TV on and/or a book in my hand most nights.  Lately I’ve been wondering, though, if that might have something to do with the new bedside lamp I bought a while back.  It’s a very nice study/desk lamp, with some sort of high tech bright light.  But it doesn’t throw a very wide area of light, and I’ve been finding myself curling onto odd positions to read with it.  Last evening I unplugged it and brought back my old standby, a standard table lamp with a 200-watt incandescent bulb.  And last night I read for forty minutes before I got sleepy (and by then it was 12:45 AM).

The problem, and the reason I was looking for a new lamp to begin with, is that it’s getting harder to find 200-watt incandescent bulbs, and the compact fluorescent 42-watt bulbs (roughly the equivalent of 150 old-style watts) aren’t on every shelf, either (and require in most cases a different style of lamp shade).  I like the smaller CLFs that fill the 40-, 60-, and 100-watt spots around the house, but I’m still looking for the perfect reading strength.

Dying On The VineLighting conditions aside, I have managed to read a couple of good mysteries recently.  Aaron Elkins’ series about Gideon Oliver, the Skeleton Detective, has been a favorite of mine for many years, because of my own background in anthropology and archeology.  Oliver is a forensic anthropologist, a professor in Washington state, but most of the stories takes place in exotic locations where he happens to be lecturing, visiting friends, or doing research.  In Dying on the Vine, the seventeenth in the series, Oliver and his wife are visiting friends in Tuscany when he is called upon to unravel the mysterious deaths of a vineyard owner and his wife, missing and presumed dead for a year, whose remains have recently been found.  Add a family feud, food and wine, a tour of Florence, and old Sicilian customs to the mystery and you have a very entertaining read.

I’ve been a fan of Carl Hiaasen for years, too, for entirely different reasons.  Hiaasen writes wildly funny novels about south Florida, where I lived from the time I was ten until I graduated from Florida State.  My family and some friends Bad Monkeystayed longer, and although I don’t have any strong connections there now, I still love to read about the place.  I started to call Hiaasen’s writing “satirical,” but so much of Florida is so bizarre on its own that perhaps that word doesn’t apply.  I’m not sure Hiaasen’s novels really fall into the mystery genre, either, although there is generally some sort of mystery to be solved.  In the latest, Bad Monkey, the protagonist is Andrew Yancy, a former Monroe County sheriff’s deputy demoted to roach patrol (restaurant inspector) for assaulting his girlfriend’s husband with a vacuum cleaner in a most personal way and a most public venue.  Yancy figures if he can solve the mystery of the human arm brought up by a fishing boat (and stashed in Yancy’s freezer), he can work his way back up the departmental ladder.  Along the way he meets a wide variety of  remarkable characters, including a charming coroner, a not-so-charming real estate developer, a Bahamian voodoo queen, a couple of practitioners of Medicare fraud, and the bad monkey of the title.  Hop on Carl Hiaasen’s rollercoaster for a wildly enjoyable ride.

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