Normally, Teddy Bentley, an animal keeper in a California zoo, spends her day sweeping up animal feces. Not in “The Puffin of Death.” This time, Teddy has been sent to Iceland to pick up an orphaned polar bear cub to bring it back to the Gunn Zoo. Before she left, Teddy’s boss, the irascible Aster Edwina Gunn, in a rare moment of generosity, handed her the zoo’s credit card and told her to have some fun.
So Teddy begins her mini-vacation by going horseback riding on an Icelandic horse, a breed that has remained pure for a thousand years. A long-time equestrienne, she’s having a ball galloping along a black sand beach near a small village named Vik. Iceland is warmer than she’d expected, and the scenery is magnificent. Glaciers, volcanoes, and deep green valleys.
But all good things must end, and less than an hour later, Teddy and her horse stumble across a dead body.
This is no ordinary dead body. Simon Parr, an avid birder and Arizona native, had just won the largest Powerball payout ever. He has celebrated by treating his birding friends to an all-expenses-paid trip to study the birds of Iceland. Among those birds are puffins, a species Parr is not especially enamored of. Iceland is home to the largest puffin colony in the world, and it’s just Parr’s luck that when the bullet entered his brain, he falls across the opening of an underground puffin burrow. Outraged, the mama puffin trapped inside with her chick promptly bites the dead man’s nose off.
Poor Teddy. On her very first day in Iceland, she finds herself involved in a murder investigation. Her situation does have an upside, though.
In charge of the case is handsome Chief Inspector Thor Haraldsson, who is instantly won over by Teddy’s freckled face and curly red hair. Cute as she is, the inspector is a consummate professional and warns her not to involve herself in the investigation.
Haraldsson’s words fall on deaf ears. Aware that Iceland has one of the lowest murder rates in the world (one per year, if that many!), Teddy realizes she might have investigated more murders than Haraldsson, and proceeds to question the members of Simon Parr’s tour group, who are ensconced at a nearby hotel. The suspects include a former model, a yoga instructor, a famous romance writer, a wealthy restaurateur, an aspiring actor, a not-too-honest rare gem salesman – and the crabbiest crab in the world.
Interviews finished, Teddy leaves for the Reykjavik Zoo, where she spends the afternoon getting acquainted with Magnus, the orphaned polar bear. Magnus is a sweetie. As Teddy describes him, “He was white, with adorable black button eyes and nose, and soaked from splashing around the small kiddie pool he’d been supplied with… The roly-poly bundle of fur was sucking from a huge bottle.”
Magnus is a noisy eater. Here is Teddy attempting to have a conversation with him.
Still cuddle-sized, and only slightly gamey, the little bear squirmed around on my lap for a minute before snatching away the bottle with both paws.
“Delicious, huh?” I asked him.
One of the reasons I like animals is because they are so uncomplicated. Eat, poop, sleep, play, mate – that was the sum total of their existence. Animals didn’t muddle their lives with plotting and planning or dreaming of vengeance and murder. They killed for food or territory, but without malice.
“Teddy loves you, Magnus,” I whispered, once the other zookeeper exited the shed.
“Do you love Teddy back?”
Such is a zoo keeper’s life. The animals they care for only truly love dinner, so the humans’ love for them remains unrequited.
Speaking of animals, no animal is ever harmed in the Gunn Zoo mysteries ( The Anteater of Death , The Koala of Death and The Llama of Death). But that’s not true of humans, who tend to die like flies. The Puffin of Death is no exception. Teddy almost meets her own demise in Iceland, once while hiking along a route once used by ancient Vikings, and barely escapes death when she gets lost during a violent volcanic eruption.
Still, The Puffin of Death has a happy ending. Teddy survives — as does Magnus and Mama Puffin — the murderer is caught, and everyone lives happily ever after. Most of them, anyway. Teddy’s stingy boss, Aster Edwina Gunn, is NOT happy when she receives the American Express bill Teddy ran up while chasing a murderer across Iceland.
But as Teddy explains, “It was all in a day’s work.”
You can read more about Teddy in The Puffin Of Death, the fourth book in the “Gunn Zoo” mystery series, published by Poisoned Pen Press. Read more about the Gunn Zoo mysteries at www.bettywebb-zoomystery.com.
About the author
Betty has worked as a journalist, interviewing everyone from U.S. presidents, astronauts who walked on the moon, Nobel Prize-winners, and polygamy runaways. For the past 10 years, she has been a columnist for Mystery Scene Magazine. She is a member of the National Federation of Press Women, Mystery Writers of America, and the American Association of Zookeepers. Visit Betty at www.bettywebb-mystery.com.