Anyone who follows my reviews knows I’m a huge Hunter Shea fan. While he covers a lot of topics in the horror genre, he may be best known for his “creature feature” style novels. When it comes to crafting action-packed creature novels, Shea is one of the best in the business and his love of all things horror and monsters shine through in every single one. He’s tackled well-known cryptids from the skunk ape and the Loch Ness Monster to some of the lesser known ones like the Dover Demon and the Orang Pendek. The one constant though is his ability to create adrenaline-laced stories that are sure to delight horror fans and those who feel nostalgia for old school creature features. Hunter Shea delivers another dose of pure fun with his latest release for Kensington, Jurassic, Florida.
Jurassic, Florida opens with a news article about a brutal attack by an eco-terrorist group called Earth Matters. The group blew up an oil rig and the explosions were so powerful, they caused tremors that registered 5.7 on the Richter scale and left 23 people dead and many more injured. While the news coverage goes over the horrific violence caused by the attack, a spokesman for the corps of environmental engineers mentioned that the ramifications of the attack will ruin the environment this group is supposedly trying to protect.
Readers are then introduced to the tight-knit community of Polo Springs, which only has 317 residents and is the very definition of a small town. I mean, the mayor’s office is located in a room above the local bakery and only has a desk, two chairs and some file cabinets. It doesn’t get much more “small town” than that. Shea does an excellent job of introducing readers to the town’s unique cast of characters that serve as the novels primary protagonists and also slowly revealing the issues that will soon descend on Polo Springs. The first character we meet is Frank Ferrante. He is homeless and living on the beach, unable to find a place to stay because he is clearly on the run from someone and doesn’t know who he can trust. It’s through Tony’s introduction that we learn that Florida is overrun with lizards after a few of them are bold enough to run down his shirt. He manages to kill one before the other scampers off.
Then there is family man Don Hendricks. He works from home after his wife Barbara’s real estate career took off and decided to be a stay at home dad. He hears his son Gary screaming and when he runs outside, he finds that his son has flipped his bike after hitting a slab of sidewalk that is jutting up into the air. The odd thing is, Don walked down that section of the street the other night and it wasn’t like that.
Cheryl Cesare is outside with her girlfriend Nicole and about to work on her garden when she discovers something that almost makes her scream. Her pride and joy – her garden that she carefully cultivated – is completely ruined. They think it is an animal looking for an easy meal, but what is odd is the vegetables were left alone. Destroyed, but not eaten. While surveying the damage, they discover a patch of the garden that looks like it is breathing. As they inch closer to investigate, the ground erupts, showering them both with dirt. That’s when they see a seemingly never-ending line of lizards flooding out of the hole.
Ann Hickok is the mayor of the small town of Polo Springs despite only being 18-years-old. After being awoken by her mother and going through her notes for the day, she notes that the growing concern among her constituents all boils down to lizards. The iguana problem has been out of control this year. Sure, the lizards have always been a natural part of the community, constantly running along lawns and stuff like that, but this year they seem to be causing an unusual amount of damage. Not just little things, but ruining the infrastructure of the town. The iguanas are pushing up concrete and swarming out of holes all over town. They dig tunnels like gophers. Iguanas are normally afraid of people, but these ones will come right up to them and even attack people. Many suspect the unusual behavior was a result of the oil spill caused by Earth Matters earlier in the spring.
As the lizards begin making their presence known around Polo Springs in a variety of ways that will make readers flesh crawl, there is a hurricane barreling down on the town. The residents of Polo Springs just see the lizards as a nuisance right now and are more concerned with the impending storm, but little do they know before long, the hurricane will be the least of their worries. The iguanas get bolder as the days pass and although it’s enough to give people the creeps, the fact remains they are tiny lizards. Frank is able to run through a large group of them that were trying to block his path. Frank is bold enough to laugh and say that lizards couldn’t stop him after he tears through them with ease. Those who are long time fans of Shea’s work know that surely things can’t be that easy and it doesn’t take long for Hunter to dial-up the mayhem for the rest of Jurassic, Florida.
What makes this such a fun read is that it’s not an animal you would expect to go on a murderous rampage. Hunter takes a friendly reptile that many people keep as pets and transforms them into utterly terrifying killing machines that are capable of creating unparalleled mayhem. Many readers will be drawn to Jurassic, Florida for the mayhem and killer iguanas and for good reason. However, this novella isn’t all action and no substance. Shea introduces readers to an eclectic cast of characters that have interesting backstories and pretty satisfying character arcs. I really enjoyed Frank’s character and while he serves as kind of comic relief, he is far more cunning than he appears at first glance. Tony is smart in trying to blend into the Florida town and he lets his appearance get away from him on purpose. He makes himself seem ragged so that no one will give him a second glance, the sort of camouflage that will keep him alive. He starts talking to himself and he begins to think he may be slipping into insanity.
I also loved Anne’s story. Anne is not your typical teenager. Most of her friends are enjoying summer break and going on vacations and she has to stay at home to serve as mayor. Most days she feels self-conscious, like she’s a little kid pretending to be mayor. She still can’t believe she managed to win last year’s election. Even though the towns people elected her, some of them constantly call for her to be removed and some of them judge her because of her age. She had a big future planned of going to Fordham University, but she had to enroll in the local community college after winning the election. She is facing her first real challenge as a major hurricane is headed toward Polo Springs and the lizard situation spirals out of control. Ann is not your typical politician. She isn’t a great public speaker and doesn’t know the nuances of being a politician. However, she does care about her community and her goal is to leave a lasting impact before she leaves. Ann and Frank were the two characters I enjoyed the most, but the town is full of ordinary people who in the face of incredible danger and shrinking odds of survival, undergo a transformation that makes for a great reading experience.
There is little to spoil with Jurassic, Florida as you know what you’re getting right from the start. What makes it enjoyable is the scenes that Hunter uses to ramp up the creep factor throughout the novella. There is a great scene when Ann is surveying the town to see the extent of the lizard problem and she sees tons of them falling from the trees like leaves. There is another great scene that will give you the creeps depending on how you feel about lizards: “The bark was actually the writhing bodies of dozens of lizards. They scuttled over one another’s bodies up and down the tree, making it look as if it were breathing.”
Shea also does a great job utilizing setting to craft a more entertaining story. Anyone who has ever visited Florida knows that the humidity in the summer can be oppressive and Shea captures that perfectly throughout the story. The other thing most people associate with Florida is hurricanes. By adding a hurricane to the mix, it adds another level of danger to the story and cuts the town off from the outside world. It has the potential to feel like overkill – especially with the swarms of lizards causing destruction all over Polo Springs – but it fits the story and is a necessary plot device.
Jurassic, Florida is unfiltered mayhem with plenty of rampaging monster goodness and a hell of a lot of fun. If those sorts of things that interest you, this is an essential addition to your summer reading list. As someone who grew up loving Godzilla, I had a blast reading this and I feel Jurassic, Florida further cements Hunter Shea as the King of Monster Fiction. Much like his Mail Order Massacres trilogy, this is the first installment of a trilogy called One Size Eats All. The second book, Rattus New Yorkus drops in August followed by The Devil’s Fingers in October. Both of these novellas are high on my list of anticipated reads and I can’t wait to see what sort of chaos Shea has cooked up for us to enjoy!