Imagine The Sopranos, with snakes! The Lizard King is a fascinating account of a father and son family business suspected of smuggling reptiles, and the federal agent who tried to take them down.
When Bryan Christy began to investigate 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 a mother alligator, and sprayed by a bird-eating tarantula. But perhaps more dangerous was coming face to face with Michael J. Van Nostrand, owner of Strictly Reptiles, a thriving family business in Hollywood, Florida. Van Nostrand imports as many as 300,000 iguanas each year (over half the total of America’s most popular imported reptile), as well as hundreds of thousands of snakes, lizards, frogs, spiders, and scorpions.
Van Nostrand was suspected of being a reptile smuggler by Special Agent Chip Bepler of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who devoted years of his life in an obsessive quest to expose The Lizard King’s cold-blooded crimes. How this cat-and-mouse game ended is engrossing and surprising.
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 …. 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, THE NEW YORK TIMES
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Florida’s rich literature of true crime just grew richer with the publication of Bryan Christy’s The Lizard King…Christy tells the story masterfully, with a novelist’s control and sense of scene… He writes with a laconic humor that recalls Elmore Leonard…[A]n outstanding book…
– DAVID FLESHLER, SUN-SENTINEL…DETROIT FREE PRESS
Who knew the world of reptile smuggling was as high-stakes and character-rich as an Elmore Leonard novel? Christy…dives headlong into this subterranean world where a white python can fetch more than $100,000 and illegally smuggled frogs and frilled dragons are sold to pet shops and zoos. The tactics of reptile smuggling recall those of drug criminals–falsifying documents, laundering funds. This global operation centers on some of the notorious men of the Van Nostrand family. Though they’re no less fearsome than the Corleones, Christy resists demonizing them. Instead, he emphasizes our enduring fascination with the cold-blooded.★★★★
– SETH FIEGERMAN, PLAYBOY
Bryan Christy has fulfilled his contract as a writer on all counts; in this impassioned, noirish, funny, ruthlessly researched masterpiece he has, with a poet’s soul, given voice to the voiceless, shown us a world we could not otherwise explore on our own and borne witness to the careless mentality of our collecting, consuming culture.
– ALEXANDRA FULLER, author of DON’T LET’S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT
– JESSICA LEBER, AUDUBON
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
[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.
– THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
I have a feeling this guy can tell stories hair-raising enough to keep us up all night.
– CONNIE OGLE, BETWEEN THE COVERS, MIAMI HERALD
High-stakes … creepily compelling … a book so complicitly illicit that it could only take place right here in our own backyard … It’s not a nice story, but it is nicely told, and pretty amazing to see it’s the really scaly creatures featured in its midst are people who look probably a whole lot like us.
– JOHN HOOD, MIAMI SUN POST
There’s a single sentence, three chapters into his first book, The Lizard King, where Philadelphia-area writer and first-time author Bryan Christy proves just how good he is at making sense of complicated things. … And with it, Christy enters a new and scary world: the world of promising, potential-filled writers.
– MICHAEL POLLOCK, OUT AND ABOUT
Everyone connected to wildlife today–from governments to zoos and field conservationists to wildlife pet traders and owners–should read The Lizard King. By plumbing the criminal nature of the wildlife trade, it demonstrates the paradigm shifts in thinking essential to tackling the illegal global wildlife trade.
– DR. ELIZABETH L. BENNETT, WILDLIFE CONSERVATION
Who knew the world of reptile smuggling was so poisonous? … Set in the mid-1990s, [The Lizard King] is reminiscent of the film version of Frank W. Abagnale’s Catch Me if You Can: the determined lawman, the flamboyant scofflaw, the eventual showdown. Christy takes us deep inside the world of the smuggler… An exciting story of smugglers, lawmen, corrupt government officials, organized crime, and slithery beasts.
– DAVID PITT, BOOKLIST
A book unlike any you have read before, The Lizard King will take you on a twisting journey in which you will crave the culmination of the story while at the same time not wanting it to end.
– NICOLE M. BOALS, ARMCHAIRINTERVIEWS.COM
After reading this captivatiating true story, you may never look at a reptile in the pet store or perhaps any animal in a pet store the same way again.
– ANIMAL WELFARE INSTITUTE
– EMERGING WRITERS NETWORK
Does it sound like a fictional thriller? Well, this non-fiction book is just as compelling a read as any best-selling thriller… extremely well researched…a rollercoaster…This is how a book, any book, should affect its reader, and Christy delivers.
– AZRINA ABDULLAH, REGIONAL DIRECTOR, TRAFFIC SOUTHEAST ASIA, THE STAR, MALAYSIA
If you like a good Indiana Jones adventure, Christy’s work is loaded with all the colorful characters, entertaining asides, and exotic locations you could desire.
-ALLYSON WRIGHT, ETUDE: NEW VOICES IN LITERARY NONFICTION
Christy’s The Lizard King tips scales of justice … [His] book will keep you up at night as you begin to see some of the world’s most frightening creatures as victims instead of villains.
– TAMMAR STEIN, ST. PETERSBURG TIMES
It’s a story of crime, wildlife smuggling and money….Fascinating
– ELIZABETH JOHN, NEW STRAITS TIMES, MALAYSIA
Riveting… [The Lizard King] captures in vibrant prose the dynamic personalities and habits of its human and reptilian subjects.
– KIRKUS REVIEWS
One of the Best Non-Fiction Books of the Year
– TUCSON CITIZEN