Book cover Squeeze Me by Carl Hiaasen - review by Charles Harris

What’s a poor author to do? You write a comic novel that satirises the orange blob in the White House and no sooner is it in print than he’s gone.

Carl Hiaasen is one of America’s most successful writers of satire and comedy crime. His latest, Squeeze Me, zeroes in on the glitterati of Palm Beach, with a large side-order of Mr and Mrs Trump.

It’s by no means the only orange-POTUS satire to appear, but has it caught the tide or missed it?

Squeeze Me

An award-winning Miami-based journalist, Carl Hiaasen co-wrote three mystery-thriller novels, before his first solo – the 1986 crime satire Tourist Season. Fifteen novels have followed, along with six for young readers. All are set in Florida, often sharing characters and themes, such as disappearances, fraud, corruption and the environment.

Squeeze Me begins with such a disappearance: that of the twice-widowed and immeasurably wealthy Kiki Pew Fitzsimmons. Kiki is a leading light of the glittering (and fiercely pro-MAGA) rich set of Palm Beach.

Her friends from the social club the POTUSSIES, dedicated to supporting the sun-bedded President, put their financial power into pushing the local police into a manhunt.

As it happens, we learn quickly (no spoiler) that Kiki hasn’t really disappeared at all. She is currently mouldering away in the stomach of a giant python. But there are those who don’t want the truth to come out.

And when the police arrest an innocent Honduran refugee, POTUS sees a golden opportunity for a crusade against “Diegos”.

Dickensian skill

Hiaasen draws on many of his most favoured kinds of plots and characters – from missing persons and unusual wildlife to cheating capitalists and their hapless goons.

And at its centre is the stout-hearted python-wrangler Angie, who finds herself fighting a world in which lies, corruption and self-deception rule.

Carl Hiaasen in relaxed mood

Hiaasen has a Dickensian skill in depicting characters. Maybe it comes from his journalism. In the best Dickensian tradition, good guys and bad jump off the page with their quirks and foibles – and eye-catching names like Tripp Teabull and Clinton Skink Tyree.

Yet these people are very much of today.

The President of the US is very recognisable, despite being unnamed. Though, more time is given to the difficulties facing his staff, and to the scarily devoted POTUSSIES…

…while the First Lady desperately seeks escape in a steamy if dangerous affair with one of her security detail.

Bite and sizzle

The story bowls along at speed, gripping you as tight as a runaway python and refusing to let go until the end.

It is also very funny. Yet, unlike many comic novels I could name, the plot and characters are never forced out of shape in the interests of the humour.

The satire has a sharp bite and the dialogue snaps and sizzles. There are many great one-liners.

I liked Kiki’s family background: “eldest granddaughter of Dallas Austin Pew, of the aerosol Pews”.

And when Potussie co-founder (Fay Alex Riptoad, “of the compost and iron ore Riptoads”) hears that the police have put out a Silver Alert for her friend, she complains that anyone can get a Silver Alert.

“Isn’t there a premium version for people like us? A Platinum Alert?”

Caught the tide?

Whether the book will last, now that the 45th president has left the White House, remains to be seen. I suspect it will.

For one thing, he may have been ousted but is likely to still be around for some time. For another, the comedy actually comes not only from the Trumps, but also the Palm Beach socialites, their lifestyle, beliefs and hangers-on.

And barring a revolution – albeit one which I suspect Hiaasen and many of his characters would heartily support – they themselves are certainly not going anywhere soon.

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Squeeze Me by Carl Hiaasen

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