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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Book Review: The Anteater of Death

No, the title of this post is not a typo.  That is actually the title of an actual book.  It's the sort of title which just leaps out at you from a library shelf.  Doesn't that totally sound like the name of a punk rock band?  But I digress...

In The Anteater of Death, veteran mystery novelist Betty Webb introduces readers to the fictitious Gunn Zoo and its plucky protagonist, zookeeper Theodora "Teddy" Bentley.  When the body of a murdered man is found in zoo's giant anteater enclosure, it is up to Bentley to uncover the killer (why are the cops never able to solve these murder mysteries on their own in these books?)

Anteater would be a fairly typical novel, except of course that it is set in a zoo.  It's rare that we really see our profession depicted in any depth in pop culture (and even more rare when it's depicted even somewhat accurately... I'm looking at you, Kevin James).  The Gunn Zoo might be a little too perfect to be believable, the characters might be a little too earnest and preachy (Webb's attempt to sneak some education into her story).  Murder mystery aside, Bentley might see more animal action in a week than most zookeepers will see in three lifetimes (breaking up wolf fight, giraffe giving birth, kid falling into bear exhibit, etc... all in the space of, what, three days?).  It's still cool to see a (somewhat glamorized) version of ourselves in a novel for all to read...  Many keepers will definitely sympathize with Teddy as she struggles with her family's disapproval of her job/lifestyle

The Anteater of Death is by no means super-high-brow fiction, and I doubt that the movie rights are being haggled over as we speak.  Still, Betty Webb (a former zoo volunteer, to boot) does what so many of us try and fail to do - tell visitors a story about zoos and their role in the world.  If she has to wrap it in a murder mystery to get visitors to swallow it, so be it. Once they take the first sample, they might decide the hidden lessons aren't so bad after all.

PS: If you try and enjoy this book, be sure to check out its Gunn Zoo sequels - The Koala of Death and The Llama of Death

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