Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Albino pythons, endangered lizards and other reptiles are the currency of an underworld as dangerous and lucrative as the drug trade. Freelance writer Christy's debut is an enthusiastic but scattered chronicle of the rise and fall of a lizard kingpin and the federal agent who pursued him. Mike Van Nostrand inherited Strictly Reptiles, an import-export business in Florida, from his father, Ray, turning it into a multimillion-dollar smuggling operation. Van Nostrand imported reptiles of all shapes and sizes, usually concealed in the suitcases or clothing of his mules, and sold them to collectors and pet stores. He exploited loopholes in the international treaty on endangered-species trade and paid off corrupt officials. In the early 1990s, Fish and Wildlife Services agent Chip Bepler set his sights on Van Nostrand. After Bepler's years of surveillance and hard work, Van Nostrand was sentenced to eight months in prison, his export license revoked, and Strictly Reptiles was forced to pay $250,000 in fines to a wildlife fund. Christy's frenetic approach bouncing from Mike's smuggling to young Ray catching snakes to the neglect of wildlife crime prosecution is disorienting in what could have been a fascinating tale." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"An exciting story of smugglers, lawmen, corrupt government officials, organized crime, and slithery beasts." Booklist
"Somewhat thin on dialogue and heavy on hearsay, this riveting volume nonetheless captures in vibrant prose the dynamic personalities and habits of its human and reptilian subjects." Kirkus Reviews
"Christy, a former lawyer, skillfully reports on the evolution of the little-known federal laws and international treaties governing wildlife trade, drawing portraits of the underappreciated, underfinanced heroes fighting wildlife crime." New York Times
"[F]ull of enthralling, creepy and horrifying anecdotes....Christy's 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." St. Petersburg Times
"[T]he real-life action is more than dramatic enough to propel this fascinating story." Miami Herald
"The Lizard King
is well written, making it a breezy and easy read. The characters are all well rounded....I recommend The Lizard King
to anyone interested in pets, animals, conservation, international law -- okay, I recommend this book to everyone." Doug Brown, Powells.com
(read the entire Powells.com review
About the Author
Bryan Christy has had a life-long fascination with reptiles and an even greater fascination with the men responsible for smuggling them to the U.S. He graduated from University of Michigan Law School, took a Fulbright Scholarship to University of Tokyo Law School, worked for Senator Bradley, and later in the Executive Office of the President. In 1999, he was asked to become the country's first post-Vietnam War resident legal adviser to the government of Vietnam but turned it down to write. This is his first book.