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Monday, December 28, 2015

Book Review: The Puffin of Death

There's a scene in the second Die Hard movie when an incredulous Bruce Willis wonders aloud how many times he can find himself in the same ludicrous position of having to single-handedly thwart terrorists. Theodore Bentley, protagonist of the Gunn Zoo mysteries, probably feels the same way.

Having solved no fewer than three zoo-related murders right in her own backyard, she now finds herself dealing with yet another.  Only this time, she's not at the fictitious Californian zoo, she's half-a-world-away in Iceland, the setting of Betty Webb's newest book in the series, The Puffin of Death.

Being removed from her zoo setting (there is a zoo - an Icelandic one - in this novel, but it plays only a tangential role in the story), animals don't feature as heavily as they do in the three previous novels - The Anteater of Death, The Koala of Death, and The Llama of Death.  We meet a few animals - a pair of Arctic foxes, a pair of puffins, and a lovable orphaned polar bear cub - but compared to the other books, there's much less "teachable zoo" moments and more mystery and whodunit.

The Gunn Zoo mysteries are one of two zookeeper-murder-mystery series that I am aware of, the other being Ann Littlewood's series, beginning with Night Kill.  The concept of a zookeeper solving crime struck me as odd at first, until a passing comment by protagonist Bentley caught my eye.  Teddy comments on a zookeeper's powers of observation, having to spend much of their time interpreting the behavior and motivations, and predicting the future actions, of the creatures they care for.  In that way, I guess zoo animals and murder suspects do have one thing in common - neither are prone to be too chatty.

The Puffin of Death won't drop too many bombshells on you - as with most murder mysteries, I feel like the easiest way to solve this one is write a list of all potential suspects, and then check them off one by one as the narrator suspects them - it's always the one the they never suspect (or at least acknowledge suspecting to the reader).  It also doesn't offer as much in the way of insights into zoos and their residents (human and animal) as much as some of the earlier works in this series.  It does have it's own virtues, though, such as an oddball cast of characters (entirely different from the previous books) and a lot of evocative descriptions about Iceland, which make it perfectly enjoyable for some light reading.

If nothing else, it sure makes you want to visit Iceland.

The Puffin of Death at

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