The Puffin of Death by Betty Webb

The Puffin of Death by Betty Webb
A Gunn Zoo Mystery
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Genre: Mystery/Suspense, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (243 pgs)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

California zookeeper Theodora Bentley travels to Iceland to pick up an orphaned polar bear cub destined for the Gunn Zoo’s newly installed Northern Climes exhibit. The trip is intended to be a combination of work and play. But on day two, while horseback riding near a picturesque seaside village, Teddy discovers a man lying atop a puffin burrow, shot through the head. The victim is identified as American bird-watcher Simon Parr, winner of the largest Powerball payout in history. Is Teddy a witness―or a suspect? Others include not only Parr’s wife, a famed suspense novelist, but fellow members of the birding club Parr had generously treated to their lavish Icelandic expedition. Hardly your average birders, several of them have had serious brushes with the law back in the States. Guessing that an American would best understand other Americans, police detective Thorvaald Haraldsson grudgingly concedes her innocence and allows Teddy to tag along with the group to volcanoes, glaciers, and deep continental rifts in quest of rare bird species. But once another member of the club is murdered and a rockfall barely misses Teddy’s head, Haraldsson forbids her to continue. She ignores him and, in a stunning, solitary face-off with the killer in Iceland’s wild interior, concludes an investigation at once exotic, thrilling, and rich in animal lore.

It’s always a pleasure to find a new mystery author, and even more of a joy when the first book you read is part of a series. The Puffin of Death reminded somewhat of an Agatha Christie novel with lots of suspects, and a wonderful setting where everyone is out of their element. As with Christie’s books, The Puffin of Death has a cast of characters, some oddball ones thrown in, and all with the perfect motive and opportunity to have committed the crime, which in this case, is the murder of a fellow birder.

The sleuth is zookeeper Therodora, otherwise known as Teddy, who’s dispatched to Iceland to bring back a polar bear to California. As with all good mysteries, nothing goes to plan and Teddy finds herself playing detective to solve the crime.

I really enjoyed this lead character even though I hadn’t read any of the books that preceded this one. She’s funny, smart, and a top class amateur detective. The dialogue was really good and the pacing fast. However, the thing that sealed the deal and turned this into a fun read was the setting. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything set in Iceland before and Ms. Webb did a great job with making it feel like you were really there along with Teddy. The flora and fauna and the active volcanoes and glaciers were so well described it had me wondering if the author had spent time there.

Overall, this was a fun read and I’ll be looking for more books in this series and recommend it as the ideal book for some winter reading.

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