The Puffin of Death: A Gunn Zoo Mystery (Gunn Zoo Series) by Betty Webb

Reviewed by Caryn St. Clair

The Puffin of DeathZookeeper Teddy Bentley is sent to Iceland to pick up the Gunn Zoo’s new polar bear, a couple of foxes and a pair of puffins. Her host, wanting to make sure that Teddy had a chance to see some of Iceland outside of the zoo, takes Teddy on a site seeing excursion. Unfortunately, what Teddy saw was a dead body. Even more unfortunate, Teddy recognized the man as a fellow American she had seen first creating a scene on the airplane and then arguing with someone after they had landed. When the boyfriend of her host becomes a suspect, Teddy begins using her free time snooping around trying to figure out who had reason to want the man dead. Needless to say, the local authorities are not pleased to have an American zookeeper butting into their investigation.

While I love each and every book in Webb’s Lena Jones series, I have had mixed feelings about the Gunn Zoo books and I’ve struggled to figure out why. Both series are extremely well written-tight plots with all of the threads wrapped up in the end with plenty of twists along the way and the author plays fair with the readers. The Lena Jones books have a tad more grit than I normally choose to read as they focus on some uncomfortable issues, but Lena is such an interesting protagonist, following her is sort of addictive. But Teddy Bentley is equally interesting and these books are a bit more along the line of my usual reading fare. So why do I struggle with Teddy? I finally decided the problem for me is the zoo.

I am a zoo volunteer so having a zoo in a book is normally a plus, but I think the books should be called the Teddy Bentley series instead of the Gunn Zoo series, because, it is Teddy, not the zoo that drives the books. Some of the books take place in the zoo, some not so much. Puffin of Death, for all practical purposes is set in Iceland with only the first and last chapters being at the actual zoo. In some books, Teddy is very involved with a specific animal, but in Puffin of Death, the animals are really only used as a way to put Teddy in Iceland. We meet the animals a few times, but don’t really get to know them as we have in some of the earlier books. I think this is a positive turn for the series. Also, the presence of animals in the books is more to put Teddy on the scene where the crime is going to be committed than actually about the animals as such. In other words, these books are not the “to formula” teashop/craft/food centered cozy with tips of the hobby or food at the end. There is no “how to feed a polar bear” included at the back of the book!

What Webb does do, and does it quite well is to weave a bit of animal information into the story along the way-in this case the mating habits of puffins and the real trials facing polar bears struggling to survive in the wild. She slips this information in seamlessly within the story itself. The conservation message dealing with the melting of sea ice was so well done, I half expected to see a list of references for readers at the end of the book about the melting ice cap and polar bears.

The Puffin of Death is the fourth book in the Gunn Zoo series by Betty Webb.

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