The Puffin Of Death: A Gunn Zoo Mystery #4, by Betty Webb
This is the fourth book in a series, and the first one I have read. My library doesn’t happen to have the entire series and it’s not quite good enough for me to put money down on for myself, so I’ll make do with what I have. This is not a great novel by any means, but it is a perfectly competent and enjoyable mystery novel with an appealing heroine and a worthwhile environment in Iceland among a crowd of shady bird-watchers from Arizona. The novel is a reasonably short one at 240 pages, took me an hour or so to read, and it gave me modest enjoyment in dealing with a group of people I found somewhat loathsome and unpleasant, aside from the Icelandic contingent and the heroine herself, who was spunky and curious. One could likely read dozens of series like this one and I chose this particular series because it had animal names, which allowed me to fulfill part of a Goodreads challenge, which is enough reason to spend a bit of time on a book like this which shows competence but not surpassing skill.
With a due avoidance of spoilers, this particular book looks at the consequences of a trip by our heroine Theodora “Teddie” Bently to Iceland to pick up a polar bear and a few other animals for her zoo’s Northern Clime exhibit. Naturally, as one would expect from an amateur detective and moderately unlucky busybody, she spends very little time on her actual work of bonding with the adorable orphan polar bear cub that her zoo is adopting and a lot more time trying to solve a growing set of murders where she herself becomes a target after inserting herself into the case. The first murder victim happens to be the sponsor of the whole trip, a polyamorous birdwatcher whose unconventional romantic life and Powerball winnings make him an obvious target for someone. But whom? Is it the woman who he was quarreling with in a restaurant that draws some negative local attention? Is it a girl whose family has serious money problems whose harridan mother has thrown her at him? Is it a bad actor with a dark life? A local actor? His wife, a famous romantic suspense novelist? And, as is common in this genre, not only do we have one murder to deal with with a stolen Finnish rifle, but when another body shows up dead, that of a woman who Teddie has been pretending to be friends with, how long will it take for Teddie herself to be a target?
Of course, all ends relatively happily in a somewhat suspenseful manner and the author even manages to close the book by giving nearly everyone a send-off and a positive reward, even the murderer. I modestly enjoyed reading the novel and its twists and turns were sufficient that I look forward to reading the other two novels in the series that my library had and I was able to put on hold. I can’t see myself reading these novels again as is my fashion with books I really like, but as someone who is a fan of mystery I found a great deal that was likable about the heroine and it confirmed my own position about the ambivalent place that private detectives like the protagonist face with the local authorities, seeking to use their intellect and independent position to assist the legal order while finding themselves both tolerated and somewhat mistrusted by that official order. Too bad we didn’t get to see more from the protagonist’s fiance, who only makes a cameo appearance here.