Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Second Gunn Zoo Mystery from Betty Webb: THE KOALA OF DEATH

This morning's time spent browsing through picturebooks for my animal-loving grandson reminded me that I wanted to mention an animal-oriented mystery author: Betty Webb, and her second Gunn Zoo mystery, THE KOALA OF DEATH. If you avoid "animal mysteries" for fear of running into a talking cat, you can still keep this tight, enjoyable murder mystery on your list of books-to-catch-up-with. It was released in summer 2010, and it features Theodora "Teddy" Bentley, a zookeeper with a knack for confronting danger. Most of the time, that's not from the creatures in the zoo exhibits -- but from individuals whose greed and fear (those noted twin motivations) lead them to assume they have the right to kill people who are in their way. The first Teddy Bentley book was The Anteater of Death; Webb is a seasoned author with a wide body of work, and her skill shows right away in this fresh series.

Don't count on cute koalas, though, if cute means "like a cuddly person-baby"; the animals in this zoo act just the way real animals do, from occasional mooning for the camera (if there's a bona fide edible reward visible) to, umm, "making a mess" when upset or threatened. And Bentley, a realist, deals with such crises just fine; it's the human ones that she mistakenly assumes may somehow go away. A good read, with just the right amount of grim threat mingled with satisfying out-maneuvering and a hearty dash of self-awareness blending into a smile. Here's a very typical passage from early in the book:
Grayness swirled around me in a fog so thick that only the
outline of the boat next to mine was visible. A blue and white
CrisCraft twice the size of my Merilee, the Gutterball bobbed
gently in the harbor’s calm water. The night before, its owners,
Doris and Sam Grimaldi, had thrown a noisy party that lasted
far too late. I’d stayed until ten, then came back home to the
Merilee to get some sleep, but found myself still awake at one,
listening to a boat full of drunks guffaw at jokes so ancient they
should have died with the dinosaurs.
Quick perspective: Webb's zoo mysteries are less aimed for laughter than the ones that Donna Andrews writes (nice interview of Andrews here on the Sisters in Crime blog!), and they won't give you nightmares. On the other hand, if your experience of them is like mine, you'll have trouble holding onto these, because you'll keep thinking of good friends who'd enjoy them.

No comments: